“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.

 
 
 
 

To boost the high street, cities should invest in offices

Offices in Northampton. Image: Getty.

Access to cheap borrowing has encouraged local authorities to proactively invest in commercial property. These assets can be a valuable tool for cities looking to improve the built environment they offer businesses and residents.

Councils are estimated to have spent £3.8bn on property between 2013 and 2017, funded through the government’s Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) at very low interest rates. Offices accounted for half of this investment, and roughly a third (£1.2bn) has been spent on retail properties. And local authorities were the biggest investor group for UK shopping centres in the first quarter of 2018.

Why are cities investing? There are two major motivations.

First, at a time when cuts are squeezing council revenue budgets, property investments can provide a long-term revenue stream to keep quality public services up and running. Second, ownership of buildings in areas marked for redevelopment allows councils to assemble land more easily and gives them more influence over the changes taking place, allowing them to make sure the space evolves to meet their objectives.

But how exactly can cities turn property ownership into successful place-making? How should they adapt the buildings they invest in to improve the performance of the economies?

Cities need workers

When developing the city’s property offer, the aim should be to get jobs back into the city centre while reducing the dominance of retail space. For councils who have invested in existing retail space and shopping centres, in particular, the temptation may be to try and retain their existing use, with new retail strategies designed to reduce vacancies.

But as the Centre for Cities’ recent Building Blocks report illustrates, the evidence points to this being a dead-end. Instead, cities may need to convert the properties they own so they house a more diverse group of businesses.

Many city centres already have a lot of retail – and this has not offered significant economic benefit. Almost half (43 per cent) of city centre space in the weakest city economies is taken up by shops, while retail only accounts for 18 per cent of space in strong city centre economies. And many of these shops lie empty: in weaker city centres vacancy rates of high-street services (retail, food and leisure) are on average 16 per cent, compared with 9 per cent in stronger city economies. In Newport, nearly a quarter of these premises are empty, as the map below shows.

The big issue in these city centres is the lack of office jobs – which are an important contributor to footfall for retailers. This means that, in order to improve the fortunes of the high street, policy will need to tackle the barriers that deter those businesses from moving to their city centres.

One of these barriers is the quality of office space. In a number of struggling city centres, the quality of office space on offer is poor. But the low returns available for private investors mean that some form of public sector involvement will be required.


Ownership of buildings gives cities the opportunity to reshape the type of commercial space on offer. Some of this will involve improving the existing office stock available, some will involve converting retail to office, and some of will require demolishing part of the space without replacing it, in the short term at least. Without ownership of the land and buildings on it, this task becomes very difficult to do but will be a fundamental part of turning the fortunes of a city centre around.

Cheap borrowing has provided a way not only for local authorities to generate an income stream through property investment. but also opens up the opportunity to have greater control over the development of their city centres. For those choosing to invest, the focus must be on using ownership to make the city centre a more attractive place for all businesses to invest, rather than hoping to revive retail alone.

Rebecca McDonald is an analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.