Which? has identified the 50 UK places where people are most likely to struggle to access affordable food as it calls on supermarkets to sign up to a 10-point plan to support consumers through the cost of living crisis.
In a groundbreaking new study undertaken with researchers from the Consumer Research Data Centre at the University of Leeds, the consumer champion has identified the places around the UK where households are most likely to be in need of extra support to put food on the table.
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 make it difficult to shop around and can all make it difficult for people to find healthy and affordable food.
All these elements have been combined to create a Priority Places for Food Index with local areas ranked by the likelihood of people needing support in order to have access to affordable and healthy food.
The Index finds that, in England, the North East is the worst impacted, with almost half (45%) of local areas in dire need of extra support. This is due to a tendency to have 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.
Across the other regions, 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, according to Which?’s findings.
Constituencies in Birmingham and Liverpool feature heavily at the top of the Index with Birmingham Hodge Hill considered the worst, as 100 per cent of its local areas are in need of extra support. Which? found the area has poor online delivery access, high levels of fuel poverty and people in the area having a low income or no car access. When Which? visited a food bank in the local area, volunteer David Fletcher 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 according to Which?’s analysis, with low income, fuel poverty and an exceptionally high need for family food support in 96 per cent 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.
In areas where retail provision is closer to the national average such as Bradford West, socio-economic barriers and fuel poverty are relatively high but supermarkets could make a big difference by providing really targeted support such as a healthy budget range and investing in targeted promotions that support healthy and more affordable choices. One person from the area said; “Most items either cost more or have simply vanished from the shelves.”
Which?’s analysis of the Index shows that 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.
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, according to the Which? and University of Leeds index, 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.
Which? believes supermarkets need to do more to support all consumers through the crisis by making sure food prices are easy to understand to make budgeting much simpler, making sure budget lines that enable healthy choices are available throughout stores and online, and providing targeted promotions to support people in the areas that are struggling the most.
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.
The reasons for rising food prices are complex and, along with the wider cost of living crisis, are not likely to be addressed in the short to medium term. It is therefore crucial that people are given the support they need to navigate this crisis and access affordable food that is also healthy for themselves and their families.
Previous Which? research shows that most of us have had to change our food shopping habits while millions of people are skipping meals with some turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families. As food prices continue to increase – and inflation shows no sign of slowing down – it is crucial that all consumers get the support that they need to manage through this crisis.
That is why Which? is today launching its Affordable Food For All campaign calling on supermarkets to step up and help consumers keep food on the table. The consumer champion has defined how this can be achieved in a 10-point plan that sets out specific steps supermarkets can take in three main areas: clear and transparent pricing, access to affordable food ranges across all stores and through more targeted promotions.
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 Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics, University of Leeds, said:
“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.
“That is why we have developed the Priority Places for Food Index in collaboration with Which?. Our interactive map makes it easy to identify neighbourhoods most in need of support and highlights the main reasons that they need this support, recognising that one size does not fit all and that tailored help is required.”
Notes to editors:
Previous Which? research found millions are skipping meals
Ten point action plan for supermarkets:
Clear, fair and transparent pricing so that it is easy to compare best value
- 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.
The right products available in the right place so consumers who most need them have access to affordable ranges
- 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 adapting 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.
Marketing budgets and promotions tailored to support those who are most in need
- 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).
Make eating on a budget appealing and easier
- 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.
Supermarkets should openly and regularly report on progress and impact against this action plan, including availability of budget ranges in store and online and impact of targeted promotions on uptake and sales.
- The Priority Places Food Index that we have developed with the Consumer Data Research Centre at the University of Leeds brings together several key indicators for the first time to highlight where people most need support and gives an indication of the types of interventions that may be most relevant for particular areas. This has implications for local as well as central and devolved governments and by highlighting how these priority places relate to constituencies, it can help bring political attention to the different types of challenges people are, or will be, facing and who is best placed to help them.
- The Index shows that some priority places have been categorised because they are areas of high levels of income deprivation. But others may have issues that relate to the accessibility of affordable food, because of poor proximity to supermarkets, other food outlets or low levels of e-commerce activity so online deliveries are more difficult. Some areas, such as Knowsley, described above, may face a combination of all of these factors.
- Despite the headline findings from our surveys, which suggest that across the board people are concerned about rising food prices and many are changing their behaviour, a more tailored approach is also needed, taking into account the issues highlighted by our index so that interventions, whether from government or businesses, are designed in a way that addresses the circumstances specific to that place. For some areas, the challenge may be about making online deliveries more readily available for example – or increasing physical access to a choice of affordable, healthy food in areas that are essentially food deserts.
- More detail about the Index methodology can be found here.
Characteristics of priority places
We define a priority place as an LSOA, or local area, in the lowest 20% of places in the Priority Places for Food Index. Inevitably, many of these local areas are those with low incomes. However, due to the combination of factors that can determine the accessibility of affordable food, priority places are distributed around the country and not just in communities usually associated with high levels of deprivation.
Priority places by English region
Table 1: Priority places in English regions
|Region||Total number of local areas||Proportion that are priority places||Why are places in this group classed as priority places?|
|North East||1,657||44.6%||Overall, local areas in the North East tend to have a higher need for family food support and relatively poor online delivery access. The priority places are particularly characterised by poorer than average proximity to supermarkets.|
|Yorkshire and The Humber||3,317||36.6%||Online delivery access is relatively poor in Yorkshire and the Humber. Local areas that are priority places tend to have higher socio-economic barriers, higher need for family food and higher fuel poverty. The priority places are particularly concentrated in the West and South of Yorkshire.|
|West Midlands||3,487||36%||The West Midlands has a disproportionately high number of priority places and this is driven by local areas that have relatively high fuel poverty and a high need for family food support. Many parts of Birmingham have large proportions of priority places.|
|North West||4,497||32.3%||Overall, the North West is around the national average across all 7 domains of the index, but its priority places tend to have more socio-economic barriers and higher levels of fuel poverty.|
|East Midlands||2,774||19.3%||Areas within the East Midlands tend to have around the national average across all 7 domains.Those areas identified as priority places tend to have poor online delivery access and more socio-economic barriers.|
|East||3,614||12.9%||Local areas in the East of England have higher than average measures for family food support and lower socio-economic barriers. Those local areas that are priority places tend to have poor online delivery access. The priority places in the south of the region tend to be clustered in towns such as Basildon, Harlow and Stevenage, while there is a relatively high incidence in Norfolk, both near the border with Cambridgeshire and along the coast.|
|South West||3,280||10.4%||South West areas tend to have relatively good access to supermarkets and lower socio-economic barriers. Priority places in the South West have poor online delivery access and poor non-supermarket food provision. Cornwall has a very high proportion of priority places.|
|South East||5,382||7%||South East areas tend to have relatively very good family food support and low fuel poverty. Overall access to supermarkets and non-supermarket food provision is middling. Priority places in the South East tend to have more socio-economic barriers and poorer online delivery access. The priority places are often located on the coast.|
|London||4,835||4%||London areas tend to perform higher than the national average across most domains. However, levels of fuel poverty are in line with the national average and there are more socio-economic barriers. Priority places in London have higher levels of fuel poverty and worse access to online delivery.|
Priority Places by Parliamentary Constituencies
74% of UK Parliamentary constituencies have at least one priority place, but there are 95 constituencies across the UK for which at least half of the constituency is a priority place. In 16 constituencies at least three-quarters of the local areas are priority places and all of the local areas in Birmingham Hodge Hill are.
The following case studies identify different types of constituencies that are priority places.
Case Study: Knowsley (ranked 2 of 533 English constituencies)
|Knowsley has high levels of deprivation – almost all of the constituency has high socio-economic barriers, high need for family food support and high levels of fuel poverty. It also has relatively low levels of supermarket proximity with half the number of large or very large supermarkets compared to the national average. Accessibility in some parts of the constituency and e-commerce access is also low. As a result 96% of local areas are priority places and 16 are in the top 100 priority places in England.|
|Similar constituencies: Liverpool West Derby (16), Walsall North (40), Liverpool Walton (44), West Dunbartonshire (2 of 59 Scottish constituencies), Glasgow North East (4 of 59)|
Case Study: Bradford West (ranked 15 of 533 English constituencies)
|Many of the priority places in this local area have retail provision that is close to the national average, but access to online deliveries is mostly rated as very poor. Socio-economic barriers and fuel poverty are relatively high. 75% of local areas are priority places.|
|Similar constituencies: Birmingham Yardley (11), Birmingham Hall Green (13), Bradford East (=17)|
Case Study: North West Durham (ranked 8 of 533 English constituencies)
|An area with the population spread across, often former industrial, towns and villages. Proximity to supermarkets is relatively low, especially outside of the major towns, although accessibility tends to be higher. Relatively high levels of need for family food support. 80% of local areas are priority places.|
|Similar constituencies: Blaydon (9), Bishop Auckland (10), Bolsover (12), Rhondda (1 of 40 Welsh constituencies), Blaenau Gwent (2 of 40)|
Case Study: South West Norfolk (ranked 20 of 533 English constituencies)
|An example of a rural constituency with a high proportion of priority places. The constituency has limited supermarket and non-supermarket retail provision. Access to online deliveries is also relatively poor and the measures of fuel poverty indicate this is above average. 70% of local areas are priority places.|
|Similar constituencies: Louth and Horncastle (=24), St Ives (27), South East Cornwall (46), Berwick-upon-Tweed (54)|
UK Parliamentary Constituencies with most priority places
|Constituency||Region||Number of local areas in constituency||Proportion of local areas that are priority places||Rank (of 533 English constituencies)|
|Birmingham, Hodge Hill||West Midlands||66||100.0%||1|
|Houghton and Sunderland South||North East||58||86.2%||3|
|Birmingham, Northfield||West Midlands||65||86.2%||4|
|Birmingham, Perry Barr||West Midlands||66||84.8%||5|
|Blackley and Broughton||North West||62||80.6%||6|
|Bradford South||Yorkshire and The Humber||62||80.6%||6|
|North West Durham||North East||56||80.4%||8|
|Bishop Auckland||North East||55||78.2%||10|
|Birmingham, Yardley||West Midlands||65||76.9%||11|
|Birmingham, Hall Green||West Midlands||66||75.8%||13|
|Don Valley||Yorkshire and The Humber||64||75.0%||14|
|Bradford West||Yorkshire and The Humber||63||74.6%||15|
|Liverpool, West Derby||North West||59||74.6%||16|
|Wolverhampton North East||West Midlands||55||72.7%||17|
|Bradford East||Yorkshire and The Humber||66||72.7%||17|
|South West Norfolk||East||61||70.5%||20|
|Constituency||Number of local areas in constituency||Proportion of local areas that are priority places||Rank (of 59 Scottish constituencies|
|North Ayrshire and Arran||129||68.2%||1|
|Kilmarnock and Loudoun||127||63.8%||3|
|Glasgow North East||113||60.2%||4|
|Glasgow South West||108||57.4%||7|
|Glasgow North West||106||50.0%||9|
|Constituency||Number of local areas in constituency||Proportion of local areas that are priority places||Rank (out of 40 Welsh constituencies)|
|Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney||47||74.5%||3|
|Carmarthen East and Dinefwr||44||40.9%||8|
|Vale of Clwyd||44||31.8%||10|
Northern Irish constituencies
|Constituency||Number of local areas in constituency||Proportion of local areas that are priority places||Rank (out of 18 constituencies)|
16 constituencies with more than 75% of local areas classified as priority places
|Constituency||Region||Number of local areas in constituency||Proportion of local areas that are priority places|
|Birmingham, Hodge Hill||West Midlands||66||100.0%|
|Houghton and Sunderland South||North East||58||86.2%|
|Birmingham, Northfield||West Midlands||65||86.2%|
|Birmingham, Perry Barr||West Midlands||66||84.8%|
|Blackley and Broughton||North West||62||80.6%|
|Bradford South||Yorkshire and The Humber||62||80.6%|
|North West Durham||North East||56||80.4%|
|Bishop Auckland||North East||55||78.2%|
|Birmingham, Yardley||West Midlands||65||76.9%|
|Birmingham, Hall Green||West Midlands||66||75.8%|
|Don Valley||Yorkshire and The Humber||64||75.0%|
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