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'Action needed now on rural housing'

Urgent action is needed to provide more affordable homes in the countryside, says the Rural Services Network.

The network issued the warning in response to a report by MPs which said the government lacked ambition to solve the UK's housing crisis.

The Housing: State of the Nation report, was published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Friday (28 April).

Such is the state of the "broken" market that the number of homes built in England has lagged behind demand for housing for decades, says the document.

The effects of this long-running shortfall in housing reveal themselves in the growing barriers people face in getting on the property ladder, or simply affording their rent.

The human costs are emphasised by the growing problem of homelessness.

RSN chef executive Graham Biggs said: "Housing is consistently rated as one of the top challenges facing rural communities across the country.

"Many people in rural areas find it difficult to afford their own home.

"Affordability is a real problem for people living and working in the countryside because wages are often low and house prices are high.

"Rural families frequently find themselves priced out of their local housing market – a situation which often forces them to move away from the communities in which they live and work.

"A solution to the rural housing crisis must be found, and a meaningful increase in delivery of affordable housing in rural villages and small towns secured if we are to have a sustainable future for our rural communities."

The report says the number of families living in temporary accommodation increased from 50,000 in 2011-12 to 72,000 in 2015-16.

Almost 120,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation today.

The Department for Communities and Local Government says it has an ambition to deliver 1 million new homes over the five years of this Parliament.

But the committee says the government remains dependent on the existing market, which is dominated by a handful of private developers, to realise its ambition.

Plans to deliver will not come close to matching demand, it adds.

Even if this is achieved, the report says problems of affordability and homelessness are likely to persist for years to come.

The department's lack of ambition on such a fundamental issue is matched by a lack of information, says the document.

In particular, the report says there is scant detail on the impacts and value for money of the roughly £21 billion spent by the government each year on housing benefit.

The Department for Communities and Local Government recently published a White Paper outlining proposals for accelerating housebuilding.

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