Rural homelessness in England rose by almost a third between 2010 and 2016, with those affected bedding down in barns and outhouses, according to a report.
The causes were everything from lower levels of housing affordability to family breakdown, the study from the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found.
Key findings of the report showed that 6,270 rural households in England were accepted as homeless last year; representing 1.3 in every 1,000 households.
Rural homelessness can also go undetected since those affected take shelter in outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars, meaning the scale of the problem may be underestimated.
Unlike urban homelessness however, rural people were more likely to find support through the hospitality of friends and family when faced with homelessness, the report said.
Another cause of the problem may be changes made under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which put families under increased financial strain.
Estimates cited in the research suggested that, by 2021, there would be a cumulative reduction in the incomes of poor households of around £25 billion (€28 billion) every year.
There was also the added pressure placed on house prices in rural areas, generated by demand for second and holiday homes in the countryside.
Moreover, efforts to relieve homelessness were hindered by difficulties reaching isolated groups; a lack of public transport; and the availability of alternative accommodation - among other reasons.
In order to address the problem, the report called for the UK government to develop a new national homelessness strategy that included an assessment of homelessness in rural areas “covering its scale and nature and the distinct challenges faced by rural areas”.
The report said: “Scenes of rolling hills, countryside pursuits and nostalgic ideas about village life can present rural living as offering opportunities for people to escape the pressures associated with England’s urban centres, to access a better quality of life.
“But these idyllic images mask significant experiences of inequality and deprivation to which rural communities are vulnerable.”