It said the number of people sleeping rough in barns, outhouses and parked cars in rural areas had risen by up to 32% between 2010 and 2016. It is a problem but it’s a relatively well hidden problem.
To a certain extent there has always been an issue. I have family and friends of my own age who started their married lives in a caravan tucked round the back of the family farm. The newlyweds had a bedroom and kitchen of their own and if they wanted to do anything so exotic as to wash or go to the toilet, then they’d have to go into the house.
It was just one of those things. Working in agriculture you were stuck in a low wage economy and because your home and workplace was in the countryside, you were stuck in a high house-price area. Eventually if the family owned the farm, you’d try to get permission to build a house. For a tenant farmer, that was never an option, no landlord could afford to build a house and not get a commercial rent for it. That, almost by definition put it out of reach of rural employee. I know of farms now where they have seriously big static caravans for employees. Full planning permission, mains electricity and plumbing, but still caravans. Fine if you’re young and single. It’s just that there is no accommodation at all in the area for the sort of money a farm worker could afford. I asked one farmer whether he had thought of building houses for staff. His comment was that if he could afford to build that many houses, he’d be better off abandoning farming and just live by running holiday lets.
Nowadays things are tougher than they were when I was in my teens and twenties. Agricultural incomes have not kept pace with inflation, whilst house prices have rocketed. Indeed in rural areas you get the double hit. Not only are the houses more expensive, there are fewer of them because so many are now second homes or holiday lets.
So the rural housing crisis is largely hidden. Some go through the expensive planning process to get permission for a ‘permanent’ caravan. Others just stick their cheap second-hand (or do we call them pre-loved now?) caravan in a barn and hope nobody notices.
In urban areas, family breakdown, unemployment and mental health problems are among the major causes of homelessness. In rural areas the same problems exist. To be honest, the offspring of farming families are comparatively well supported within the family unit. Indeed it has been estimated that over seventy percent of rural homeless people have been supported and accommodated almost entirely by their extended family. In urban areas this drops to about fifteen percent. But then not many council houses have the room to hide a caravan.
A lot of rural rough-sleeping consists of people sleeping in their car. Because of the impossibility of getting to anywhere rural by public transport, your car is perhaps more important than your home. If you have a home but no car, you’ll have no job and soon you’ll have no home. If you have a car, you can continue to hold down you job and then you have a hope of getting a home.
Then you have those who do sleep rough. Nobody really has any idea how many there are. In towns they do night-time surveys and make estimates. In rural areas this isn’t so easy. To quote one report, “It is harder for these services to operate in rural areas given the large distances between residential areas, absence of ‘street’ lighting, and tendency for rough sleepers to stay outside village centres. Remoteness can also create safety concerns for outreach staff. They may be required to go into badly lit environments with difficult terrain (for example, coastal areas, caves and woods), with limited mobile phone reception and far away from other homes and services.” This is from ‘Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities.’ It’s published by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The safety of staff is a genuine issue. The safety of rough-sleepers apparently less so.
Indeed the lack of transport is a serious problem in rural areas. Somebody with mental health (or even just health) issues is going to struggle to get to any of the centres where they can get help. Even just attending an interview with your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau can take an entire day. Before anybody talks about Skype interviews or similar, remember this is a rural area. If the person is homeless they haven’t got a computer, and as it’s rural their mobile reception could be distinctly iffy.
Rural public transport has broken down to a level where some CABs will pay for taxis to get those of their clients living in rural areas to court. That’s to stop them getting into serious trouble with the magistrates for turning up late and missing their hearing. I came across the case of one young man who had to attend a court hearing. He arrived at 11am for a 10am hearing. The magistrate had already put out a warrant for his arrest. To be fair to the police, when he arrived they just fitted him into the next gap in the schedule and the magistrate lambasted him for not being on time. He apologised but explained that he’d had to walk twenty-two miles to get there. He’d set off at four in the morning but had discovered the hard way that you cannot walk at four miles per hour indefinitely. The lady magistrate then pointed out that he was only been called in for a strong warning. She felt that he’d already had that. So she told the police to drive him home.
There again, what do I know? I recommend that you take it up with an expert
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”