By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks
Recently I’ve seen two interesting numbers relating to Buckinghamshire that have really made me think about our county; 43 and 11. Forty-three is from the national homelessness figures and 11 from the State of Rural Services Survey.
Community Impact Bucks has a mission to improve the lives of the people of Bucks through working with charities and communities. We review the national data about rural living and guide and support community groups on ways to develop sustainable projects for a better life. (Training, events, community transport projects, good neighbours schemes, rural housing etc).
Buckinghamshire ranks as the 3rd most affluent county in the UK outside London. So it was a surprise to see the National Rough Sleeping Data record that on one night chosen at random for a survey, we had 43 individuals sleeping rough on our street in one snapshot count. While writing this I am looking at the rain pelting down and thinking of those people possibly huddling in doorways in our market towns of High Wycombe, Chesham, Aylesbury, Buckingham…
I was recently speaking to the people who run vital charities which are there to give hope and a lifeline to local homeless people. They told me that this figure of 43 is an under count. In reality, those few people counted are the very tip of an iceberg where many more are sleeping on sofas at friend’s houses or families who are having to stay with friends or relatives to stay off the street. When I expressed shock at the number of rough sleepers in Bucks and the comparative wealth of the county I was told that it can be harder to get services in counties where the deprivation is so concentrated. There are more people living rough in High Wycombe than Newcastle! The homeless charities then told me that things are getting worse with rough sleeping in Bucks rising by over 30%, caused by a combination of rent prices, fewer landlords accepting people on benefits and changes in benefit payments; all making it harder for people to actually pay the rents.
The second number of interest was the Rural Services Report (Rural England) that identified the average house price in Bucks being 11 times greater than the average salary. The average house price in Beaconsfield is £980,000 according to some surveys from 2015.
Both these numbers reflect real life situations and they feel incongruous and unsustainable.
Buckinghamshire is such a beautiful rural county and in some cases well-served by services but most of us just don’t see the real disparity that the fantastic organisations like Wycombe Homeless Connection and Aylesbury Homeless Action deal with every day.