Poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of amenities are leaving poor, elderly and disabled people stranded in so-called ‘food deserts’.
Over a million people have little access to affordable fresh food according to a study produced by Kellogg’s and thinktank Social Market Foundation. With so many facing the same dilemma, the UK’s most disadvantaged are prevented from even the most basic shopping experience if they cannot afford to fork out for a round-trip in a taxi.
These food deserts were identified as being one in ten of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods, and were defined as having a population of 5-15,000 people with access to two or fewer big supermarkets. Many of these areas are dotted with smaller convenience stores – which are demonstrably more expensive and less likely to stock fresh, healthy supplies.
Some of the impacted areas were identified as Hattersley in Greater Manchester, Rumney in Cardiff, Everton in Liverpool and Dalmarnock in Glasgow.
This can mean having to carry their food shopping a long distance, a struggle that many older people living in food deserts experience
The health ramifications of the food desert crisis show no sign of slowing down, with poor nutrition leading to a spike in conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Poor, disabled and elderly people are disproportionately affected, either physically or financially unable to travel long distances for affordable and healthy food.
Megan Blake, an expert on food security and food justice, told The Big Issue in an email: “This can mean having to carry their food shopping a long distance, a struggle that many older people living in food deserts experience.”
Experts are particularly concerned about the fast rise in food deserts as the number of takeaways popping up appears to be following a similar trajectory; there are nearly 60,000 in Britain, and many spring up in these deprived areas only to become heavily relied on by locals as a convenient, low-cost alternative in the absence of big, affordable supermarkets.
Most attempts to stop the crisis in its tracks have been community-based. In response to the findings, Kellogg’s teamed up with food redistribution charity The Bread and Butter Thing to develop a pilot programme addressing food access in deprived areas around Greater Manchester.
Even in the US, community effort to eradicate food deserts has, in some instances, paid off. In Syracuse, a combination of grants, tax breaks and tireless work by a local non-profit saw the opening of a large supermarket chain in an area which had suffered little access to fresh food for decades.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
Some UK charities are working to fix the symptoms; the Alexandra Rose Charity, for example, delivers fruit and vegetable vouchers to low income households around London, Liverpool and Barnsley.
Supermarkets might not be the one solution to food poverty and the isolation suffered by deprived areas, but they serve as a lifeline for locals who need them most.
Businesses must be encouraged into poorer communities, transport made affordable for those who need to use it, and facilities designed with the elderly and disabled in mind – all of which can only be effective if the government steps in to tackle the root causes of poverty as well as all its symptoms.