THE hidden rural housing crisis continues to worsen along with its tragic impacts on people and families.

This includes rates of rough sleeping, which CPRE analysis has revealed are worse in rural areas than many of our towns and cities.

Levels of homelessness, a broader category, have leapt 40 per cent in the countryside in just five years.

This is hardly surprising given record house prices, stagnating wages, huge housing waiting lists and a proliferation of second homes and short-term lets.  

CPRE’s recent report "Unraveling a crisis: the state of rural affordable housing in England" sets out the causes of the problem, lays bare its impact on real people and explains what the government can do to fix it.  

The charity is calling on the government to redefine the term "affordable housing" in line with average local incomes, increase the minimum amount of genuinely affordable homes and homes for social rent required by national planning policy, and extend restrictions on the resale of "affordable housing" to ensure it can be used by local people, not as second homes or holiday lets.  

Shockingly, CPRE analysis has revealed that a greater proportion of people are sleeping rough in the seven worst affected rural local authorities – Bedford, Boston, North Devon, Cornwall, Boston, Bath and Northeast Somerset, Torridge and Great Yarmouth – than they are in London, Leeds or Norwich.

People sleeping rough are defined as those sleeping in the open air, tents, makeshift shelters or buildings not meant for human habitation.  

Unlike those in urban areas, people sleeping rough in the countryside are often hidden out of sight, camping in fields or sheltering in farm buildings. They are also less likely to have access to support services.

This means the analysis, which uses the government’s own data, almost certainly underestimates the scale of the crisis. 

In September 2023, the latest month for which data is available, 48 people per 100,000 were sleeping rough in Boston, England’s worst-affected rural local authority.

The figures for Bedford and North Devon, which have the next-highest rates of rough sleeping, were 38 and 29 respectively. This compares with 23 in London, 19 in Norwich and 14 in Leeds.  

In England, 12 local authorities designated as largely or predominantly rural had levels of rough sleeping higher than the national average (15 people per 100,000).

These were spread across the country, with examples in all regions except the North East, demonstrating the breadth of the problem. 

CPRE Director of Policy, Campaigns and Communications Elli Moody said: "We are in the grip of a housing affordability crisis that threatens to tear the heart out of rural communities.

"The sharp rise in rural homelessness shows the real-life impact of record house prices, huge waiting lists for social-rent housing and the boom in second homes and short-term lets.

"We all need a safe and secure home but decades of government inaction means that too many people are now being denied this fundamental right.  

"We urgently need to tackle the factors driving people out of the communities they know and love.

"At CPRE, the countryside charity, we’re calling on the government to redefine ‘affordable’ so that it’s pegged to local average incomes not market rents, to set and deliver ambitious targets for new, genuinely affordable and social-rent rural housing, and to regulate second homes and short-term lets."