RURAL HOMELESSNESS is an unseen crisis in the countryside, driven by limited access to services and an absence of affordable homes. The extent of the crisis is unclear as limited rural data is captured in official statistics. Trends show that overall homelessness has increased in the last decade and where interventions have helped in urban areas, their impact is less successful in rural communities. A rural housing task force has joined forces to shine a light on the crisis by commissioning a 12-month research collaboration between academics at Kent and Southampton Universities.
The rural task force includes leading national, rural charities and housing providers. Working collaboratively, the group have pooled resources to develop and fund the research, designed to secure evidence showing the extent of the rural housing crisis and what interventions will help tackle the problem.
Working with the researchers, the group will develop and share a series of recommendations to inform government ministers and future policy making. Existing research has largely focused on urban homelessness due to its inherent visibility, yet it has neglected a growing crisis facing rural areas. This lack of exposure has meant it hasn’t received the attention and investment it deserves from policymakers.
A joint submission by Dr Carin Tunåker (University of Kent) and Professor Helen Carr (University of Southampton) was chosen to undertake the research. Both academics are leading experts in the rural and homelessness field. Their work will uncover the characteristics of rural homelessness, what worsens it, and how it can be prevented.
Heading up the research, Professor Helen Carr said:
“There is an acute lack of convincing evidence about rural homelessness. We’re delighted to have been selected to carry out this research and to investigate what it really means to be homeless in the countryside. So often rural areas are painted as idyllic retreats where people seek out a stress-free life. This perception is in danger of glossing over those who are at risk of becoming homeless or already have no roof over their head. Working with such a strong steering group of rural experts, we plan to put this right and provide the evidence needed to give this issue the attention it deserves.”
Homelessness in rural areas has more than doubled in the last two years and is rising. In the countryside, reduced government grants to Councils, a lack of affordable accommodation, limited public transport, social isolation, and a shortage of specialist resources makes it a complex issue to prevent. This has been worsened by the pandemic following a temporary pause on evictions, a rise in domestic violence and unearthed socio-economic inequalities.
The research will bring together evidence, expertise, and real-world case studies to recommend what measures are needed to make sure that the target of ending rough sleeping by 2024 includes the countryside. An interim report will be published in Spring 2022, with a comprehensive final report following later in the year.
Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural who are co-chairing the research project, said:
“We are delighted to be working with Professor Carr and Dr Tunåker on this much-needed piece of research. Hidden homelessness in rural areas needs urgent attention so we can fully understand its causes and how we can prevent it. We also need to take strong and convincing evidence to policymakers to ensure that rural communities are not left out in the cold, as so often they are. In urban areas, the issue is much more visible, yet in rural areas, it is still hidden in barns, tents, and outhouses. Fundamentally, this is about a lack of affordable and available housing and, unless we tackle this, the problem is set to remain.”
The research has been commissioned by a rural homelessness task force to form a steering group of experts from English Rural Housing Association, CPRE – The Countryside Charity, The National Housing Federation, Homeless Link, Hastoe Housing Association, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), The Rural Services Network, Citizen Housing, Trent and Dove Housing Association, and The Rural Housing Alliance.
The research is set to start in Autumn 2021 and is expected to take 12-months to complete. An interim report will be issued mid-way through the project.