“We mapped out food poverty across England, to see where food banks are needed most”

A Trussell Trust food bank in Nottingham. Image: Getty.

Statistics from food banks across England show a frightening rise in the number of people using their services, meaning that more and more people don’t have enough money to feed themselves. Between 1 April 1 2016 and 31 March 2017, the Trussell Trust provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food packages – up 73,645 from the previous year.

People affected by food poverty face severe threats to their health and well-being. As well as the stress, depression and anxiety that can result from not having enough money to feed their families, people experiencing food poverty also face a higher risk of obesity, because the only foods they can afford tend to be cheap, sugary, processed and fattening.

Some researchers have already mapped out who is using food banks, which is a big step towards understanding the problem. But academics like ourselves are increasingly concerned that just focusing on food bank data means we are not seeing the whole picture. After all, some people in need do not live near a food bank, or do not know about local services, or are too embarrassed or worried about what will happen if they tell people they cannot afford to feed their children properly.

These people are extremely vulnerable, since they’re not getting the crucial emergency support offered by food banks. Identifying and helping the unseen victims of food poverty should be a national priority. The obvious answer is to create a national measure of food poverty, like the ones used in the US and Canada. This would allow the government to identify those in need, and target resources accordingly.

Shockingly, no such measure is used in England, though some efforts are being made in Wales and Scotland. But there is a way to use existing data, to figure out not just how many, but crucially where vulnerable people might need emergency food.

Mapping out food poverty

We already know what types of people are more likely to experience food poverty: single pensioners, low income households with children and people claiming benefits are at greater risk. By combining this knowledge with big datasets such as the Census and data from the Department for Work & Pensions, it’s possible to find out where populations at risk of food poverty live.

As part of new research, we mapped out the number of people at higher risk of food poverty across all of England. Our map shows that some areas of the country face much higher levels of risk – and they’re not always the ones you might expect.

A map of food poverty across England. Image:Dianna Smith and Claire Thompson/author provided.

For example, when we updated our maps with the most recent data on benefits claimants, we found that areas in London such as Croydon and Southwark have a large proportion of residents facing a high risk of food poverty. Outside of London, some urban areas in the north (Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle) have higher risk – even where these areas don’t always appear to be deprived using other measures.

When we compared those areas where people are at higher risk of food poverty with the locations of food banks from the Trussell Trust, we found that those areas don’t always have a lot of food banks. In fact, based on the available data, we couldn’t find a statistical relationship between the number of food banks in an area and the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation score, meaning that food banks are not always concentrated in the poorest areas.


Making a difference

Of course, this is not a criticism of food banks. They offer vital and often life-changing services. But more information about exactly where these invaluable services are needed could mean more vulnerable people receive the help and support they need to get through a difficult time.

Our maps can help with this, by helping local authorities put together food poverty action plans that target their resources more effectively. The data can be tailored for localities to account for the specific local problems which contribute to food poverty – such as the high housing costs in London boroughs, and the high rates of unemployment in many communities in the north-east of England. We are already working with local authorities around the country to this end.

The ConversationThis type of work is becoming more important, as controversial policy changes and cuts take hold. The roll out of Universal Credit looks set to make food poverty worse in some areas. By looking for food poverty hot spots in the local communities, researchers can help charities and local government to reach those in need.

Dianna Smith, Lecturer in GIS, University of Southampton and Claire Thompson, Assistant Professor, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.