A homeless person is seen on a sidewalk as the homeless try to survive under difficult conditions in London, UK on January 02, 2022. Rasid Necati Aslim / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)
(AFP) – Homelessness in rural England has risen by 40 percent in five years with many sleeping in the open air, tents or makeshift shelters, a British rural charity said on Tuesday.
A cost-of-living crisis in the G7 nation and world’s sixth-biggest economy has left many Britons struggling to make ends meet, as bills for food, energy, rent and mortgages increase.
Annual inflation hit a 41-year peak of 11.1 percent in October 2022, and while it has come down to 3.9 percent in November, charities say a range of factors – notably cuts to welfare payments in the last decade and a housing shortage – has exacerbated food poverty and homelessness.
The CPRE charity, which campaigns for affordable housing in rural England, said homelessness in the countryside had increased from 17,212 in 2018 to 24,143 in 2023, with wages stagnating and housing costs rising in many areas.
“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,” it said.
The charity said 12 local authorities across England –- designated as predominantly rural –- had levels of rough sleeping higher than the national average of 15 people per 100,000.
– ‘Hidden out of sight’ –
The town of Boston, northeast of London, was England’s worst-affected rural local authority for rough sleeping, the charity said.
It said 48 people per 100,000 were sleeping rough in town in September 2023 -– the latest month for which data is available.
Boston was followed by Bedford, north of London with 38 per 100,000, and North Devon in southwest England with 29.
“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,” the charity said.
“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.”
The charity said 300,000 people are waiting for social housing in rural England –- where the average house sells for around £420,000 ($535,000).
– Food handouts soar –
The Shelter charity, meanwhile, said levels of homelessness across England this Christmas are likely to be 14 percent higher than last year.
It estimated that on any given night in 2023 there were 309,550 people in some form of homelessness, the majority in temporary accommodation.
This is up from its estimate of 271,421 in its 2022 annual report.
The charity blamed a housing emergency for the crisis, and warned that the true figure could be higher due to some “hidden homelessness” such as sofa-surfing.
The Trussell Trust, the UK‘s largest food bank network, said last month that the number of food parcel handouts to people in need has risen to “unprecedented levels” as poverty spread across the country.
It said it had provided 1.5 million emergency food parcels to people between April and September 2023 — a 16 percent increase on 2022 and the most it has ever distributed at this point in the year.
“This is the highest number of food parcel handouts we have had to give in a six-month period,” it said.
“We are expecting this to be our worst winter ever.”
© Agence France-Presse