Homelessness rising and villagers priced out in rural England

Dan Whitehead, west of England correspondent

The number of social homes being built in rural England has fallen by more than 80% in the last six years.

Exclusive research for Sky News has found just 1,309 social houses were built in rural areas in 2017-18, despite hundreds of thousands of people stuck on long waiting lists.

Sky News and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) can reveal that social housing - previously known as council housing - has fallen by 83% between 2011-12 and 2018.

"When we look at the type of housing that is being supplied, generally the amount of social rent being supplied is significantly short of what is needed," said Jonny Webb, a researcher at the IPPR.

"Across the country, we think that there should be the need for around 100,000 social-rent houses per year and that should be supported with the dedicated grant funding and subsidy needed to actually get those houses built.

"What we believe at the IPPR is that it's imperative for the government to support an ambitious housebuilding programme geared towards social rent."

Official figures show the number of new homes built each year is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas - but the government says it is focusing efforts on building affordable rent homes rather than social housing.

In fact, the IPPR says the amount of affordable rent housing has risen by 97% since 2011-12, while social housing has fallen by 83%.

Affordable rent homes tend to be let at 80% of market value, while social housing is rented at a much lower rate, and in many cases is the only option for those on low income.

The IPPR says one reason for the stark fall in social housing is that for developers, affordable classed homes can be more profitable.

Mr Webb said: "Part of the issue is that developers tend to favour building affordable rent houses because they know that they can be rented out at a higher rate and they can get higher rates of return in terms of their rent.

"But it's also to do with the way that the government grant and subsidy is targeted towards house-building so what we've seen since 2012 is the amount of available grant funding for building and supporting the development of sub-market housing has significantly been geared towards affordable rent housing.

"So housing developers and housebuilders actually find it much easier to get the grant funding they need to make the profits they desire on the affordable rent housing."

The struggle to get on the housing ladder in predominantly rural England is tougher than in urban areas.

Last year, lower house prices were 8.8 times the average lower wage in rural areas, compared with 7.5 times in predominantly urban areas, excluding London.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told Sky News: "Housing is a priority for this government and last year we built more homes overall than in all but one of the last 31 years.

"Since 2010, the government has focused on creating more homes for affordable rent as opposed to social rent across the country and we've delivered 430,000 of these, including over 139,000 in local authorities with significant rural areas."

The rural housing crisis is also having an impact on the number of homeless - with exclusive figures for Sky News showing rough sleeping across rural England is also on the rise.

The IPPR says that between 2012 and 2018, the number of rough sleepers has increased by 33%.

However, these numbers are only official figures registered by local authorities - the actual number of rural homeless is likely to be much higher.

"In terms of the challenges that both homeless people and rough sleepers face, these are significant and they're all the more pronounced in rural areas," Mr Webb said.

"Some of the issues that rough sleepers might face in urban areas such as exposure to the elements, difficulties in accessing healthcare services, difficulties in accessing accommodation, these are all the more pronounced in rural areas.

"So things like the dispersed nature of rural geography and the difficulties in accessing transport links, these are all additional problems that rural rough sleepers have to deal with."

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