Warning over 'hidden homelessness crisis' in rural areas

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People are sleeping rough in barns and outhouses as a hidden homelessness crisis hits rural areas, an influential think tank has warned.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that it is particularly hard to prevent or relieve homelessness in the countryside because of the difficulties in covering larger areas and the lack of specialist resources compared to cities.

The left-of-centre think tank said the promotion of the countryside as a "rural idyll" could "mask" the presence of households at risk of becoming homeless or already without a roof over their heads.

In 2015-16 some 6,270 households were accepted as homeless in 91 mainly or largely rural local authorities in England, an average of 1.3 in every 1,000 households.

A fifth of all homeless cases occurred outside of England's most urban areas.

From 2010 to 2016 "mainly rural" authorities recorded a 32% increase in rough sleepers, while in "largely rural" areas there was a 52% rise.

IPPR research fellow Charlotte Snelling said: "Many people see homelessness and rough sleeping as a problem which only affects England's big cities.

"However IPPR's research shows that it is a real problem in rural areas too. It is often hidden with people forced to bed down in outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars.

"However, this isn't something we simply have to accept: building more affordable homes alongside putting in the right support from government would do much to tackle this issue.

"This will require politicians both locally and nationally to accept their responsibility to change things and put in place a much better strategy to do this."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "This Government is committed to ensuring people always have a roof over their heads, regardless of whether they live in a city or in rural areas.

"That's why we're investing £550 million to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping across the country.

"In addition, the Government backed and is now implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act which requires councils to provide support to people earlier."