“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.

 
 
 
 

Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.