The North East has the biggest concentration of UK households struggling to put food on the table, with constituencies in Birmingham and Liverpool also at the top of the list.
The findings by the Consumer Research Data Centre at the University of Leeds in partnership with consumer body Which? show that in England, the North East is the worst impacted by the food crisis, with almost half (45%) of local areas in “dire need of extra support”.
This is because of an historical track record in the region of relatively poor access to online shopping deliveries, a poorer than average proximity to supermarkets and higher need for family food support such as food banks, eligibility of free school meals and take up of healthy start vouchers.
Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands and the North West all have about a third of local areas in the region especially in need of extra help.
Which? created the index using factors such as low income, poor access to affordable food, having no large supermarkets nearby, a lack of online shopping deliveries or circumstances such as no car access that make it difficult to shop around and can all make it difficult for people to find healthy and affordable food.
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Constituencies in Birmingham and Liverpool feature heavily at the top of the index with Birmingham Hodge Hill considered the worst, as 100% of its local areas in need of extra support.
The area has poor online delivery access and high levels of fuel poverty and people in the area having a low income or no car access. One food bank volunteer said: “Where this food bank is, there's no supermarket within two miles.”
Knowsley in Merseyside is the second highest ranking constituency for needing support, with low income, fuel poverty and an exceptionally high need for family food support in 96% of its local areas.
It also has relatively low levels of nearby supermarkets with half the number of large or very large supermarkets compared to the national average, indicating affordable food may be harder to find locally.
One local resident said “often cheaper products are unavailable with only more expensive options left” at their local supermarket.
Liverpool West Derby (16), Walsall North (40), Liverpool Walton (44), West Dunbartonshire (2 of 59 Scottish constituencies), Glasgow North East (4 of 59) are constituencies facing similar problems.
Overall, seven in 10 UK Parliamentary constituencies have at least one area in need of urgent help accessing affordable food — but there are 16 constituencies across England and Wales for which at least three-quarters of the constituency are at risk.
Number of local areas in constituency
Proportion of local areas that are priority places
Rank (of 533 English constituencies)
Birmingham, Hodge Hill
Houghton and Sunderland South
Birmingham, Perry Barr
Blackley and Broughton
Yorkshire and The Humber
North West Durham
Birmingham, Hall Green
In Wales, Which? found the highest concentration of areas at high risk during the food crisis in the Valleys where proximity to a large supermarket or access to online deliveries may be very poor.
Wales has a higher proportion of rural places where accessing affordable food is an issue than England and Scotland.
In Scotland, the places in highest need of support are in the Central Belt, but there is also a notable concentration in and around Dundee where there is relatively poor access to online food deliveries and people are more likely to be suffering from fuel poverty and on a low income.
Northern Ireland has the most even geographical spread of areas in need of support accessing affordable food. However, there is a noticeably greater concentration in parts of south west Belfast and in and around Derry/Londonderry.
As part of its newly launched Affordable Food For All campaign, Which? has created a 10-point plan to help supermarkets provide the support people around the country desperately need in order to feed themselves through the ongoing crisis.
Sue Davies, Which? head of food policy, said: “We know that millions of people are skipping meals through the worst cost of living crisis in decades but our new research tells us where around the UK support is most urgently needed.
“The supermarkets have the ability to take action and make a real difference to communities all around the UK. That’s why we’re calling on them to ensure everyone has easy access to budget food ranges that enable healthy choices, can easily compare the price of products to get the best value and that promotions are targeted at supporting people most in need.”
Michelle Morris, associate professor of nutrition and lifestyle analytics at the University of Leeds, added: “With so many people in the UK already suffering from food insecurity and the cost of living crisis making that much worse, we need to do all that we can to support those most in need to access affordable, healthy and sustainable foods."
Ten point action plan for supermarkets:
Make unit pricing prominent, legible and consistent in-store and online so price comparisons are easy across different brands and sizes of packaging.
Provide clear unit pricing for promotional offers in-store and online so that people can work out whether they really are the best deal.
Provide a basic range of essential budget lines for affordable as well as healthy everyday choices that are available across stores, but particularly in locations where people most need support.
Consider adopting minimum spend requirements and other ways that online deliveries can be more cost-effective to increase options for households in areas with poor supermarket access.
Tailor marketing budgets and promotions, including through loyalty cards, vouchers and other offers, to support people where they are most likely to be struggling.
Promote the uptake of the healthy start and best start foods scheme, with a particular focus on the priority local areas where there is a low level of uptake.
Provide additional support or ‘top ups’ where people are able to be identified as in particular need — for example linking them to the healthy start or best start foods schemes and other targeted promotions.
Offer straightforward price reductions rather than multi-buy offers that require a bigger initial spend, may lead to more food waste and can make it more difficult to eat healthily
Make available more promotions for healthy and sustainable foods, including fruit and vegetables, building on evidence of where promotions drive effective outcomes (eg. 60p fruit and vegetables).
Underpin these actions by promotions, recipes and advice that make lower priced, healthy and sustainable foods tasty and appealing to the breadth of communities that are served.
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