Homes for heroes: affordable housing for rural key workers

6th July 2020

Our research shows key workers are being priced out of their rural communities. We’re calling for affordable housing for these local heroes.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, our essential workers haven’t stopped. Often putting their own lives at risk, they’ve cared for us in hospitals and looked after our older relatives in nursing homes. They’ve ensured we haven’t run out of food by growing, harvesting and delivering supplies around the country. They’ve kept our areas sanitary by collecting our rubbish. And they’ve made sure that those of us who needed to commute have been able to get to work.

We’ve been out on our doorsteps clapping for them. And politicians, celebrities and the media alike have been generous in their praise for these heroic teams.

But when it comes to finding places for these vital workers to live in the countryside where their services are urgently needed, there’s a problem. And to solve it, we need the Chancellor’s help as he considers where best to direct his planned stimulus package to help the economy.

Priced out of private rentals

We’ve analysed data on the private rental sector and found that over nine in ten rural areas are currently unaffordable for many key workers. In most of these regions, private rent would cost more than 35% of their post-tax income. These are some examples of workers affected:

  • Care workers: average private rents are unaffordable for care workers in 96% of rural areas
  • Hospital porters: average private rents are unaffordable for hospital porters in 93% of rural areas
  • Farmworkers: average private rents are unaffordable for farmworkers in 86% of rural areas
  • Youth workers: average private rents are unaffordable for youth workers: in 74% of rural areas
  • Bus and coach drivers: average private rents are unaffordable for bus and coach drivers in 67% of rural areas
  • Nurses: average private rents are unaffordable for nurses in 27% of rural areas.
'... on current building rates, it'll take more than 150 years to clear the social housing backlog.'
CPRE research findings

Our analysis also showed that average social rents are affordable for these key workers in the majority of rural local authorities. But the backlog of demand for social housing grows each year. Fewer genuinely affordable homes were ready for people last year than in the previous year. And on current building rates, it’ll take more than 150 years to clear the social housing backlog!

We say to the Chancellor: it’s time

If the households currently on social housing waiting lists were paying average social rents rather than private rents, they’d collectively save more than half a billion pounds a year. They could be spending that locally and helping with the post-lockdown economic recovery of their towns and villages.

So, along with specialist housing association English Rural, we’re calling for the Chancellor to step in and help. He has a historic opportunity to use the upcoming stimulus package to tackle the social housing backlog. We’d like to see him allocate £12.8 billion of funding to tackle the housing crisis so that we can have well-designed, affordable homes in rural communities.

Imagine what that could achieve. Rural economies would be stimulated with new jobs, customers for local businesses and places for key workers to live.

If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that strong communities are vital in coping with a crisis. Our amazing key workers are the backbone of those communities, so we need to ensure they can afford to live and thrive in them!

Want to be a part of a movement that advocates for the countryside and the role it can play in the ‘new normal’? Learn more about what we’re working on and how you can get involved.

A refuse collector pulls a wheelie bin along a village street
We rely on our key workers to keep our communities going - but many are priced out of homes Edward Simons / Alamy Stock Photo