Professor Jon May, Dr Andrew Williams, Professor Paul Cloke, Dr Liev Cherry – Written evidence (FPO0082)

 

Professor Jon May, School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Andrew Williams, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

Professor Paul Cloke, Department of Geography, University of Exeter

Dr Liev Cherry, Independent Researcher

 

This research is funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Foundation: ‘Emergency Food Provision in the UK’, grant number: SG131950

Summary

1.       This submission is based on independent academic research on rural food poverty and changes in local government spending power in England and Wales[1]. It presents new data on the scale and impact of funding cuts to local governments in rural areas; the most comprehensive map of food banking in rural England and Wales to date; and the particular difficulties rural communities face responding to problems of poverty and food insecurity.

2.       Evidence presented is directly pertinent to Question 1, 3 and 5 of the Committee’s call for evidence: 

 

1) What are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK? To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?

3) How accessible is healthy food? What factors or barriers affect people’s ability to consume a healthy diet? Do these factors affect populations living in rural and urban areas differently? 

5) What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?

 

3.       There are more than 330 food banks now operating in rural England and Wales, and there is evidence to suggest that austerity’s bite may have been especially savage in rural areas; even whilst rural communities face particular difficulties responding to these problems.

4.       Problems of transport and service deprivation, a ‘rural premium’, and the particular dynamics of stigma and shame attaching to rural poverty exacerbate experiences of food insecurity in different rural communities.

5.       Reductions in local government spending power have resulted in cuts to a range of services – from education and social care, to advice services, children centres, women’s refuges, libraries, street lighting and roads - some of which will pose particular difficulties for people living in rural areas.

6.       In 2017, the Local Government Association reported a 77% reduction in the support grant revenue received by English local authorities between 2015 and 2022 and estimated that by 2019-20 almost half of English councils would not receive any central government funding at all; leaving a funding gap of £5.8 billion and a number of authorities facing bankruptcy (Bounds, 2017). Cuts to Revenue Support Grants have been less severe in Wales than in England, but still significant. Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 local authority income from Welsh government grants fell by 16% (or £805 million), leading to real term cuts of £543 million in local government spending - with 70% less spending on economic development, 40% less on community support, and 25% less on transport (Ogle et al., 2017).

7.       In England, reductions in core spending power are over-represented in rural areas. Whilst those areas designated as Largely or Mainly Rural, or Urban with Significant Rural make up only 44% of all English local authorities, they account for 51% of the local authorities which have seen a reduction in core spending. Indeed, though 63% of urban authorities have seen reductions in spending, fully 75% of rural authorities have, with rural authorities bearing almost twice the level of average reductions in spending power (6.8%) as urban authorities (3.65%). In Wales too these cuts have been geographically uneven, with overall spending reductions significantly higher in (rural) West Wales and the South Wales Valleys (9.8%) than in East Wales (6.5%) and nationally (8.7%) (Ogle et al, 2017).

8.       Reductions in local government spending power have resulted in cuts to a range of services – from education and social care, to advice services, children centres, women’s refuges, libraries, street lighting and roads - some of which will pose particular difficulties for people living in rural areas.

9.       Taken together, austerity can be seen to compound a number of problems of rural poverty, with problems of (already) low and declining real wages and insecure employment particularly apparent in rural areas, and with cuts to local authority spending further fuelling problems of transport and service deprivation that add significantly to the difficulties low-income households face accessing (already scarce and declining) essential services, and to the rural premium.

10.   Alongside cuts to Local Welfare Assistance Schemes that were meant to provide a last source of statutory assistance for households in crisis, including help securing food, it is perhaps not surprising that food banks have become a feature of rural life too.

11.   However, rural food banks and households experiencing food insecurity in rural areas face a number of additional challenges.

12.   Rising fuel costs and limited public transport make it difficult for poorer households in sparsely populated areas to access the more affordable food available in supermarkets (which tend to cluster in larger towns and cities), those same households may find it very difficult to access either a referral agency or food bank, both of which also tend to cluster in larger settlements

13.   The uneven distribution of retailers and services in rural areas also poses problems for food banks in more remote areas, many of which struggle to secure sufficient donations to meet demand because people tend to donate to the larger supermarkets at which they do their main shop, or in the larger towns and cities in which they work.

14.   Recent reductions in local authority spending power, and real term cuts to the NHS CCG budget, are beginning to have an effect on a number of the agencies that typically provide referrals to food banks.

15.   The geography of rural food banking is also highly variegated. For example, differences in both the number of food banks and the density of provision in different counties means that access to emergency food aid is much more limited in some areas than in others.

16.   Access to food aid on the ground is to a very significant degree shaped by the operational procedures developed by different food bank organisations, many of whom place restrictions on eligibility (referral only), the amount of food given, and number of visits allowed in any one period. Thus, irrespective of the number of food banks in a place, whether a person may access emergency food is in practice largely dependent upon the procedures at their nearest food bank; such that even in areas of apparently ‘abundant’ provision, an individual’s access to food aid may be remarkably restricted.

 

 

 

 

Introduction

1.       This submission responds to the first question in the call for evidence:

 

1)    What are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK? To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?

 

2.       It also presents important data concerning the rural question related to question three and five:

 

3) How accessible is healthy food? What factors or barriers affect people’s ability to consume a healthy diet? Do these factors affect populations living in rural and urban areas differently? 

5) What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?  

3.       To date, few studies have systematically mapped rural food aid provision, partly due to the difficulty in documenting the number of independent emergency food projects.

 

4.       The submission is based on independent academic research on rural food poverty in England and Wales. We combined data on changes to English Local Authority Core Spending Power with the Office for National Statistics Rural-Urban Classification of Local Authorities to show that, contrary to previous attempts to map its effects, austerity has hit rural areas especially hard. We also present newly available data from the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network to construct the first comprehensive map of food banking in rural England and Wales, highlighting both the scale but also uneven distribution of food aid provision across rural areas. Drawing on 91 interviews with food bank managers, referral agents, volunteers and clients we examine the challenges faced by food banks and food bank users in different rural places. The research findings are currently under-review in the Journal of Rural Studies.

 

Rural food poverty

 

5.       Problems of rural poverty continue to receive far less attention amongst UK academics and policy makers than urban poverty (Williams and Doyle, 2016; though see Shucksmith, 2016; Milbourne, 2016; Fecht et al., 2018).

 

6.       Not-with-standing, in 2016-17 DEFRA reported 16% of households in rural England to be living on incomes at or below 60% of the national median, of which 13% were classified as in ‘absolute low income’ (compared to 18% and 15% respectively in urban areas). In Wales 710,000 people (23% of the population) live in income poverty (Williams and Doyle, 2016). Though DEFRA’s data can be mapped only according to a basic distinction between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ households, studies of rural poverty conducted in the 1980s and 1990s found a highly variegated picture of rural poverty, with Cloke et al (1995a&b) tracing the proportion of such households ranging from 39.2% in rural Nottinghamshire, to just 6.4% of households in rural West Sussex. Similarly, Milbourne (2004) pointed to the importance of considering what he calls the ‘local geographies of poverty’, and of tracing the experiences of poorer households in what might – at an aggregate level - appear wealthy places. Focusing on Wiltshire, a county with some of the highest average earnings in England, he found that poorer households were mainly clustered in just a few districts, and within particular parts of villages: most usually the less desirable new build estates on the periphery of settlements.

 

7.       Studies have also charted some of the distinctive drivers of rural poverty. Most notably, with many areas dominated by low-wage, casualised, part-time and seasonable employment (Ray et al., 2014), low incomes play a more prominent role than unemployment in whether a household falls in to poverty in rural England and Wales (DEFRA, 2018; Milbourne, 2011; Williams and Doyle, 2016). Thus, though employment levels are higher in rural than urban areas of England, median workplace earnings are lower (DEFRA, 2018) and whilst those in low-wage work have to rely on benefits to supplement their incomes the proportion of benefits up-take by eligible households is significantly lower in rural than in urban areas (Smith et al., 2010); reflecting both the difficulties households can have in accessing information and advice, and a reluctance of some to claim because of a desire to avoid any perception of ‘welfare dependency’ (Williams and Doyle, 2016).

 

8.       The drivers, nature and experience of rural poverty differ from urban poverty in other ways too. Rural England has much lower levels of social rented housing and much higher levels of owner occupation than England’s larger towns and cities. Combined with lower household incomes and a more general shortage of housing, predominantly rural areas also have much higher housing affordability ratios (DEFRA, 2018), a problem made worse in highly desired rural areas through rural gentrification, second homes and ‘retirement hotspots’ (Smith 2002). As well as less affordable, rural housing is typically less energy efficient and more expensive to heat than housing in urban areas, with a higher proportion of households suffering fuel poverty. In England 14% of households in rural villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings experience fuel poverty compared with 11% of urban households (DEFRA, 2018). In Wales 42% of rural households live with fuel poverty (compared to 22% in urban areas) and in 2016 21% of social housing and 46% of local authority housing failed to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (Barnard, 2018).

 

9.       Many rural households in England and Wales also face difficulties accessing essential services, with a much lower proportion of rural residents living within a reasonable distance of services such as hospitals, pharmacies and General Practitioners, but also supermarkets and banks (see Table 1.1). Significantly, problems of relative service deprivation extend to basic welfare services. In a survey of homeless services in rural England, for example, Cloke et al (2000b) found that only 12% of local authorities provided any kind of specialist homelessness advice, and only 25% any kind of emergency shelter. Moreover, in many cases what temporary accommodation was provided for statutory homeless households was often concentrated in the main county town; requiring homeless families to move sometimes very significant distances (and away from their children’s schools and local support networks) to take up the offer of accommodation.

 

10.   Problems of access to services are compounded by more limited, but more expensive, transport options. Whilst public transport is restricted and shrinking in many rural areas, households running a car face higher petrol and diesel costs, with households in rural hamlets and isolated dwellings spending on average 15.1% of their weekly disposable income (£132) on transport costs (£58 more a week than their urban counterparts) (DEFRA, 2018). Taken together, rural households in England and Wales therefore face a significant ‘rural premium’ (Williams and Doyle, 2016), spending between 10-20% more on everyday goods and services than households in urban areas (Smith, 2010), with this premium especially difficult for those on low incomes.

 

% of population living more than 4km from 

In Urban areas

In Rural areas

Bank or Building Society

3%

59%

General Practitioner

0%

20%

Pharmacy

0%

45%

Convenience Store

0%

33%

Supermarket

0%

44%

8km from a Hospital

3%

45%

Table 1.1 Geographical distance of urban and rural households in England from essential services (Source: DEFRA, 2013).

 

11.   In the absence of any measures by government, and with UN estimates available only at an aggregate level for Britain as a whole (Taylor and Loopstra, 2016), it is difficult to establish a picture of food insecurity in different parts of Britain. But some indication of these problems in rural areas can be garnered from studies of specific sectors of the British rural economy, with the Food Research Collaboration reporting 25% of all UK farmers in 2014 to be living in poverty, for example, and the food production industries paying such low wages that many workers cannot afford to eat the food they pick or pack (FRC, 2014). Submissions to the 2014 All Party Parliamentary Inquiry in to Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain also provide a picture of food insecurity in different places, and the problems of relative service and transport deprivation and of the rural premium driving it. For example, submissions from Derbyshire (in the north of England) and the Cotswolds (in the South) noted that:

 

Derbyshire’s rural nature presents a range of food challenges. Residents often live some miles away from cheap supermarkets and may not be able to afford the bus fare to travel into major towns to shop. Food choices are limited (particularly access to fresh fruit and vegetables) and considerably more expensive ... In some of our communities in Derbyshire it costs £6 for the bus fare to get to the nearest Tesco. Access to budget supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl is almost non-existent due to distance and cost of travelling (Financial Action and Advice submission to the APPG, 2014:4)

 

Everything costs more in the rural areas, services, fuel, bus fares and goods. The nearest Tesco store is one of their ‘premium’ stores so not much help for those who would benefit from some economy ranges of products. Local shops seem to have a ‘mark-up’ on goods compared to those in the bigger branches in Cheltenham (Member of the public, North Cotswolds submission to the APPG, 2014:4)

 

12.   According to Corfe (2018) 26% of rural areas in the UK can be classified as ‘food deserts’ compared to 17% of urban areas, with individuals with restricted mobility (whether because of age, ability or cost) facing additional difficulties accessing affordable food stores. 

 

Changes in local government spending power in rural areas

 

13.   Whilst cuts to social security spending make up one of the largest areas of public spending reductions under austerity, the most extensive cuts have been to the Revenue Support Grant paid by central to local government, and to social care (also paid for out of local authority budgets). In 2017, the Local Government Association reported a 77% reduction in the support grant revenue received by English local authorities between 2015 and 2022 and estimated that by 2019-20 almost half of English councils would not receive any central government funding at all; leaving a funding gap of £5.8 billion and a number of authorities facing bankruptcy (Bounds, 2017). Cuts to Revenue Support Grants have been less severe in Wales than in England, but still significant. Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 local authority income from Welsh government grants fell by 16% (or £805 million), leading to real term cuts of £543 million in local government spending - with 70% less spending on economic development, 40% less on community support, and 25% less on transport (Ogle et al., 2017).

14.   When translated in to changes in local authority spending power, a distinctive geography is apparent here too but one moving around less familiar parameters. Rather than tracing a pattern of poverty and deprivation focused on larger towns and cities, in England reductions in core spending power are over-represented in rural areas. Indeed, of the five authorities experiencing the most severe reductions in spending power, three are classified by the ONS as Mainly or Largely Rural (Forest Heath, East Cambridgeshire, and North Dorset - with reductions of 30%, 22.2%, and 22% respectively), one as Urban with Significant Rural (Basingstoke and Deane with a reduction of 23.4%) and only one as Urban (Watford, with a reduction of 23.4%). More generally, whilst those areas designated as Largely or Mainly Rural, or Urban with Significant Rural make up only 44% of all English local authorities, they account for 51% of the local authorities which have seen a reduction in core spending. Indeed, though 63% of urban authorities have seen reductions in spending, fully 75% of rural authorities have, with rural authorities bearing almost twice the level of average reductions in spending power (6.8%) as urban authorities (3.65%) (Table 1.2). In Wales too these cuts have been geographically uneven, with overall spending reductions significantly higher in (rural) West Wales and the South Wales Valleys (9.8%) than in East Wales (6.5%) and nationally (8.7%) (Ogle et al, 2017)

 

 

Conurbation

Town and City

URBAN

Urban with Significant Rural

Mainly Rural

Largely Rural

RURAL

Number of Authorities and % of total authorities T = 324

84 (26%)

96 (30%)

180 (55%)

54 (17%)

50 (15%)

40 (12%)

144 (44%)

Number and % making spending reductions

44 (52%)

61 (63%)

105 (57.5%)

42 (81%)

39 (78%)

29 (72%)

110 (75%)

% of authorities making cuts (T=215)

20%

28%

49%

19%

18%

13%

51%

Ave Spending Reduction

-2.1%

 

-5.2%

 

-3.65%

-7.9%

-7.3%

-5.3%

6.8%

Average reductions of those whose funding cut

-6.1%

-9.6%

7.85%

-10.9%

-11.1%

-10.1%

10.7%

Table 1.2: Changes in English Local Authority Core Spending Power 2015/16 to 2019/20 (Source, May et al The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales (Journal of Rural Studies, under-review). Data from DHCL, 2018; classified by the authors according to ONS Rural-Urban Classification of Local Authorities (2011) (DEFRA, 2016)).

 

15.   At a finer grain of analysis, spending reductions have been most concentrated across the middle of England’s settlement hierarchy, with average reductions of 7.9% and 7.3% in local authorities classified as Urban with Significant Rural, or Mainly Rural, compared to cuts of 5.3% in Largely Rural authorities, 5.2% in Towns and Cities, and 2.1% in Major and Minor Conurbations. Similarly, as Table 1.3 shows, whilst a greater proportion of urban authorities have born the severest cuts (with 21.5% of urban authorities experiencing reductions in spending power of 15% or more, compared with 19% of rural authorities), a much higher proportion of rural authorities have borne spending cuts in the middle range (10 to 14.9% or 5 to 9.9%), with a much higher proportion of Towns and Cities and especially Conurbations experiencing either smaller reductions (of between 0.1 to 4.9%) or no reductions at all.

 

 

Conurbation

Town and City

URBAN

Urban with Significant Rural

Mainly Rural

Largely Rural

RURAL

Reductions of 15% or more

16%

27%

21.5%

27%

22%

8%

19%

Reductions of 10 to 14.9%

12%

30%

21%

20%

16%

22%

47%

Reductions of 5 to 9.9%

2%

36%

19%

24%

27%

11%

21%

Reductions of 0.1-4.9%

54%

19%

32%

9%

9%

9%

9%

No reduction, or growth

37%

32%

34.5%

11%

10%

10%

10%

Table 1.3: Banded Changes in English Local Authority Core Spending Power 2015/16 to 2019/20 by type of authority (Source: May et al The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales (Journal of Rural Studies, under-review). DHCLG, 2018; classified by the authors according to ONS Rural-Urban Classification of Local Authorities (2011) (DEFRA, 2016)).

 

16.   Reductions in local government spending power have resulted in cuts to a range of services – from education and social care, to advice services, children centres, women’s refuges, libraries, street lighting and roads - some of which will pose particular difficulties for people living in rural areas. For example, 480 bus routes across the UK have either been cut back or cut altogether since 2016 (Rural Coalition, 2017). The consolidation and closure of jobcentres has exacerbated the cost and time taken to travel on a depleted and unreliable public transport network, increasing the risk of being sanctioned for missing a jobcentre interview (Finn 2018; Tickle 2019), and the ‘digital by default’ design of Universal Credit and other benefit claims is also a significant problem for rural households with only limited internet access. Since the disbandment of the Social Fund in 2013 cuts have also impacted on the ability of local authorities to operate the replacement Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (providing emergency payments to households in crisis) with at least 28 authorities closing their schemes entirely, others reducing average expenditure by 72.5% (between 2013 and 2018), and with a 25% reduction in the proportion of destitute people being provided with even in-kind help (for example, households items or food vouchers) between 2015 and 2018 (United Nations, 2018). In rural areas these cuts are occurring on top of an already denuded service landscape and are now significantly reducing the flow of funds to support voluntary sector services at a time when demand for such services is rising rapidly. For example, between 2012 and 2017 68 Citizen Advice Bureaus across England closed (Parliament UK, 2017), with Citizen’s Advice in Cornwall recently announcing plans to cut its budget by more than 50% as a result of the loss of £200,000 of funding from Cornwall County Council (ITV, 2017).

 

17.   Though it remains difficult to draw up a comprehensive comparison of the impacts of austerity on urban and rural areas, as the Rural Coalition (2017) have shown these reductions compound long-standing disparities in the allocation of central state funding across the urban/rural divide. For example, in 2012/13 rural communities in England received 52% less per head in central government grant spending than urban residents, and 40% less in 2016-17 despite a more dispersed population making many services more expensive to deliver (Parliamentary Select Committee, 2013; Rural Coalition, 2017). This spending includes allocations to National Health Service Clinical Commissioning Groups (NHS CCG) that fund General Practitioners and Hospital Trusts and which – adding to the problems of access to health services outlined above - are also distinctly lower for rural than urban areas. For example, in 2010-11 CCG funding was set at £2,084 per head in Tower Hamlets (in inner London) compared to only £1,560 in rural Dorset, despite the fact that all-cause mortality rates were lower in Tower Hamlets (441 per 100,000 of population) than in Dorset (1,159 per 100,000 people) (Rural Coalition, 2017).

 

18.   It is therefore very likely that austerity is compounding a number of the problems of rural poverty, with problems of (already) low and declining real wages and insecure employment particularly apparent in rural areas, and with cuts to local authority spending further fuelling problems of transport and service deprivation that add significantly to the difficulties low-income households face accessing (already scarce and declining) essential services, and to the rural premium. Alongside cuts to Local Welfare Assistance Schemes that were meant to provide a last source of statutory assistance for households in crisis, including help securing food, it is perhaps not surprising that food banks have become a feature of rural life too.

 

Rural food banks

 

19.   The true scale of food banking in rural areas of England and Wales is, however, quite shocking. Previous attempts to map the distribution of the UK’s food banks have been hampered by incomplete data; mapping the location of Trussell Trust food banks only, rather than also those operating independently of the Trust, and even then only the Trust’s 423 main ‘foodbanks’, rather than the multiple ‘food distribution centres’ attached to each (see, for example, Loopstra et al., 2015; Smith et al., 2018). The distinction between a Trussell Trust ‘foodbank’ and ‘distribution centre’ is administrative rather than real, with both providing food (via a referral system) to those in need, but the locations of the latter have only recently been released on the Trust’s ‘Find a Foodbank’ search engine. Food banks operating independently of the Trust have been harder to identify, with early efforts to quantify them reliant on national estimates drawn from areal samples (May et al., 2014). More recently, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) has started work on locating every independent food bank in the UK and by May 2018 had identified 751 (Goodwin, 2018). When added to the Trust’s 423 main ‘foodbanks’ and the 959 ‘distribution centres’ identified here through the Trust’s Find-a-Foodbank search engine, the total number of food banks operating in the UK in May 2018 stood at 2,133; more than five times the number identified in previous work. Of these, 1,499 were operating in England, with almost a quarter of these (355, or 23.6%) in areas classified as Largely or Mainly Rural by the ONS, and 139 in Wales – with almost of quarter of these too (23.7%) in rural areas.

 

20.   Importantly, echoing the variegated geographies of rural poverty outlined earlier, in England both the number of food banks and the relative density of provision (the number of people per food bank) varies significantly by county (Table 1.4). With regards the basic number of food banks, for example, the scale of provision ranges from 25 food banks in rural Cornwall and 21 in rural Devon, to 15 in rural Cambridgeshire, and just 7 in rural Herefordshire. By contrast, because of differences in the size of each county’s population, whilst Cambridgeshire has some of the highest density of provision (with one food bank for every 19,000 people), Devon has one of the lowest – with one food bank per 45,303 people. Sitting at polar ends of each distribution are the very high number of food banks, and very high density of provision, in the post-industrial iron, coal and steel communities of rural County Durham, and the very low number of food banks, and very low density of provision, in rural Cumbria.

 

Ranked number of food banks in Mainly or Largely Rural Areas by selected counties

Ranked density of food banks (number of people per food bank in both urban and rural areas of each county) by selected counties

 

County

Number of rural food banks

County

Population per food bank

County Durham

28

County Durham

1724

Cornwall

25

Herefordshire

7971

Devon

21

Shropshire

12244

Wiltshire

17

Leicestershire

19049

Leicestershire

16

Cambridgeshire

19412

Northumberland

16

Northumberland

19751

Cambridgeshire

15

East Sussex

20288

Somerset

13

Warwickshire

20323

Gloucestershire

12

Cornwall

21440

Suffolk

12

Nottinghamshire

23111

Shropshire

11

Derbyshire

23351

Derbyshire

9

Isle of Wight

23416

Lincolnshire

9

Wiltshire

24290

Norfolk

9

Lincolnshire

24608

West Sussex

9

Somerset

25236

Dorset

9

Dorset

25656

East Ridings

9

Buckinghamshire

26003

Hampshire

7

East Ridings

30379

Warwickshire

7

West Sussex

39663

Oxfordshire

7

Hampshire

40103

Worcestershire

7

Gloucestershire

40871

Herefordshire

7

Norfolk

40923

Nottinghamshire

6

Oxfordshire

42700

East Sussex

6

Devon

45303

Isle of Wight

6

Worcestershire

51469

Cumbria

6

Suffolk 

56153

Buckinghamshire

4

Cumbria

62025

Table 1.4: Number of food banks and food bank density by selected counties

Source: May et al The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales (Journal of Rural Studies, under-review) Combined from: Trussell Trust (2018a) Trussell Trust Find a Foodbank (https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/); Goodwin (2018) Independent food banks in England and Wales (http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/mapping); DEFRA (2016) ONS Rural-Urban Classification of Local Authorities (2011); ONS (2017a) Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2016.

 

21.   The first Trussell Trust food bank in Wales opened in 2008. By 2018, the Trust were operating 109 food banks and food centres, with a further 30 independent food banks across the country (Goodwin, 2018; Trussell Trust, 2018a). Food bank use in Wales has continued to grow in the last few years (Beck et al., 2016), with an 11% rise in the number of Trussell Trust food parcels distributed between 2015/6 and 2016/17 (from 85,656 to 95,190), and a further rise (to 98,350 parcels) in 2017/18 (BBC News, 2017; Trussell Trust, 2018b).

 

22.   Given the higher proportion of the Welsh population living in relatively sparsely settled areas relative to England, and the mix of urban and rural settlements within different Welsh local authorities, the ONS does not provide a classification of urban and rural areas at the local authority level in Wales. Instead, the Welsh Government work with ONS Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) data to classify settlements according to a six point schema, three of which (Town and Fringe, Village, and Hamlets and Isolated Dwellings) are classified as rural according to population size (less than 10,000 inhabitants); with a further cross-classification to take account of their relative remoteness (Town and Fringe in Sparsely Populated Area, Village in Sparsely Populated Area, and Hamlets and Isolated Dwellings in Sparsely Populated Area) (ONS, 2013; Welsh Government, 2014). An obvious disadvantage of using this data here means it cannot be directly compared with the classifications used to map the distribution of cuts to local authority spending power and the distribution of food banks in rural England above. An advantage is that it brings to light the presence of food banks in smaller rural settlements that might otherwise be obscured if classifying an area only at the local authority scale.

 

Figure 1: Food Banks in Wales

 

23.   At a larger scale of analysis, for example, it can be seen that in Wales the distribution of food banks broadly follows the distribution of population, with very few food banks in the predominantly rural areas of Mid and North West Wales, and much higher numbers in the more densely populated South East - where the seven local authority areas that together make up the South Wales Valleys (Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot) stand out in terms of both the scale and density of provision (Figure 1). Using LSOA data, however, a more nuanced geography emerges with 23.7% of the country’s food banks in areas classified as rural at the LSOA scale including a number in the smaller towns and villages scattered across the Valleys (Table 1.5).

 

24.   Not-with-standing these variations, people in need of emergency food, and rural food banks themselves, face several common problems. First, and most obviously, perhaps, just as rising fuel costs and limited public transport makes it difficult for poorer households in sparsely populated areas to access the more affordable food available in supermarkets (which tend to cluster in larger towns and cities), those same households may find it very difficult to access either a referral agency or food bank, both of which also tend to cluster in larger settlements. For example, though Cambridgeshire has one of the highest densities of food banks of any of England’s rural counties, 20 of the county’s 31 food banks are located in just three main urban centres (Peterborough, with nine food banks, Cambridge with seven, and St Neots with four) (Figure 2). This uneven distribution means households in the south of the county especially (for example, in Melbourn) must travel between ten and twelves miles to access their nearest food bank.

 

 

Figure 2: Food Banks in Cambridgeshire

 

 

 

Total Number of Food Banks

Number of Rural Food Banks

Population

Density of food banks (number of people per food bank)

Region

Local Authority

 

 

 

 

South East

Neath Port Talbot

7

2

141,600

20,228

 

Bridgend

10

4

143,200

14,320

 

Rhonda Cynon Taff

13

4

238,300

18,330

 

Vale of Glamorgan

6

0

128,500

21,416

 

Merthyr Tydfil

10

1

59,800

5,980

 

Blaenau Gwent

6

1

69,600

11,600

 

Caerphilly

4

1

180,500

45,125

 

Cardiff

7

0

361,500

51,642

 

Torfaen

8

2

92,100

11,512

 

Newport

9

0

149,100

15,566

 

Monmouthshire

5

0

92,800

18,560

South West

Carmarthenshire

4

0

185,600

46,400

 

Pembrokeshire

8

5

124,000

15,500

 

Swansea

8

0

244,500

30,562

Mid Wales

Ceredigion

2

1

74,100

37,050

 

Powys

5

5

132,200

26,440

North West

Isle of Anglesey

3

1

69,700

23,223

 

Gwynedd

4

3

123,600

30,900

 

Conwy

2

0

116,500

58,250

North East

Flintshire

8

1

154,400

19,300

 

Wrexham

5

0

136,700

27,340

 

Denbighshire

5

2

94,800

18,960

Total

 

106

33

 

 

Table 1.5: Total number and number of rural food banks and density of provision by region and local authority in Wales

Source: May et al The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales (Journal of Rural Studies, under-review) Data from: Trussell Trust (2018a) Trussell Trust Find a Foodbank (https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/); Goodwin (2018) Independent food banks in England and Wales (http://www.foodaidnetwork.org.uk/mapping); Stats Wales (2014) Geography lookups – match LSOA to different geography groups; ONS (2017a) Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2016.

 

 

25.   In response to these challenges, rural food banks often operate in different ways to their urban counterparts. In Cambridgeshire, for example, a central food bank in Ely co-ordinates the work of six other food centres in outlying towns and villages each of which opens on a different day of the week (though none in the evenings or at weekends) to maximise access across the network. Here too, however, because of the limited opening times each centre can manage, people can find themselves having to travel very long distances to access emergency help. For example, a person in the village of March in urgent need of food on a Wednesday would need either to wait a week for the village’s own distribution centre to open (1pm to 2.30pm every Tuesday), or travel 17 miles to Cottenham; a journey of at least 2 hours each way requiring both bus and train travel and costing £20.60 return. Elsewhere, because of the transport costs involved in collecting a parcel, some food banks have increased the size of food parcels they offer so people need to travel less frequently; others have begun to supply a range of other, more easily accessible, welfare providers – for example, GP surgeries - with a limited number of food parcels to distribute directly; and a few have even begun to operate delivery services. Though improving access for clients, each of these responses adds to the costs of providing food, and to the logistical demands placed on food bank volunteers; with delivery services especially expensive and time consuming for volunteer drivers.

 

26.   Second, the uneven distribution of retailers and services in rural areas also poses problems for food banks in more remote areas, many of which struggle to secure sufficient donations to meet demand because people tend to donate to the larger supermarkets at which they do their main shop, or in the larger towns and cities in which they work. As one volunteer told Butler (2013, unpaginated), this uneven geography can lead to the frustrating situation in which ‘people from isolated rural villages are driving to a nearby town to donate food to a food bank, unaware that there are people in their village who are in need and unable to get to the food bank’.

 

27.   Third, recent reductions in local authority spending power, and real term cuts to the NHS CCG budget, are beginning to have an effect on a number of the agencies that typically provide referrals to food banks. For example, between 2013 and 2018 445 GP practices across England closed, with 134 closures in 2017-18 alone (Donnelly, 2018). In light of the historically lower levels of funding to rural areas provided through both the Revenue Support Grant and the NHS CCG, and the already lower level of services in these areas, it might be expected that these cuts have hit rural communities especially hard; with six NHS practices in Bridlington (in the rural East Ridings of Yorkshire) closing their lists to new patients over the last few years (ibid). Similarly, in interview, James Milton, former South West Regional Development officer for the Trussell Trust, explained how ‘the restructuring and reduction of [local] Children’s Centre services appears to have led to a very substantial drop in referrals to a foodbank distribution centre’ in South West England (2014).

 

28.   Such difficulties are common to many rural food banks. But as we suggested above the geography of rural food banking is also highly variegated. For example, differences in both the number of food banks and the density of provision in different counties means that access to emergency food aid is much more limited in some areas than in others. In contrast to Cambridgeshire’s 32 food banks, Cumbria has just eight with the result that households in need of emergency food can face very long journeys indeed (29 miles in the case of residents of Workington to reach Carlisle). Further, though as we have also shown, volunteers in some areas have sought to improve access for clients by developing local networks and co-ordinating opening hours across a group of satellite distribution centres, the potential for such networking is also uneven. This satellite model is much more developed amongst Trussell Trust food banks, many of which developed out of existing inter-denominational church networks and which have subsequently been able draw upon a centrally administered electronic forum and website and the help of paid regional co-ordinators, than it is amongst independent food banks; the majority of which are provided by single organisations. Hence differences in the regional distribution of different food aid organisations may translate in to differences in the potential to develop local networks, and hence differences in the potential of those in need to access services, in different parts of the country. With regards this organisational spread, in Cambridgeshire 31 of the 32 food banks are affiliated with the Trussell Trust, in Dorset only 3 of 18. In Wales, there are both independent and Trussell Trust food banks in fourteen of the country’s twenty-two local authorities, but no independent food banks at all in eight of the country’s twenty local authority areas.

 

29.   Such networks also enable individual food banks to ease some of the problems of supply associated with rural food banking, by pooling donations and sharing supplies when another member of the network runs low. But again, whilst there are certainly examples of this sharing of resources across different organisations (with independent and Trussell Trust food banks in Cumbria, for example, having a strong history of collaboration) it is again more common within local networks of Trussell Trust food banks (who may also access a national redistribution system) than it is between independent food banks, or between independent and Trussell Trust food banks. Indeed, rather than cooperating, a number of independent food banks have complained they have found it difficult to develop relationships with local supermarkets because of national level agreements between the Trussell Trust, Asda and Tesco, and efforts by local Trussell Trust food banks to monopolise local retailers (May et al., 2019).

 

30.   Finally, access to food aid on the ground is to a very significant degree shaped by the operational procedures developed by different food bank organisations. Food banks affiliated to the Trussell Trust operate a common set of policies and procedures, with people in need only able to collect food having been referred to the food bank by a local ‘welfare professional’, expected not to visit the food bank on more than three occasions in any six-month period, and provided with three days of food on each occasion. Independent food banks operate a variety of practices (Cloke et al., 2017). Some have adopted procedures that are the same, or very similar to, the Trust’s – using a referral model, and limiting both the number of times and amount of food people may be given. Others allow people to access the food bank without a referral, offer a greatly extended number of visits and/or a larger quantity of food, and/or provide people with a choice of food (in set-ups more akin to a free shop) rather than providing only pre-packaged food parcels. Thus, irrespective of the number of food banks in a place, whether a person may access emergency food is in practice largely dependent upon the procedures at their nearest food bank; such that even in areas of apparently ‘abundant’ provision, an individual’s access to food aid may be remarkably restricted. Once again, access to food may therefore be heavily dependent upon the organisational geographies of food aid at the local and regional levels; with fewer food banks, but potentially greater access to food, for people in need in Dorset (where independent food banks make up the vast majority of providers), than in Cambridgeshire (where provision is dominated by the Trussell Trust) (for a discussion of the effects of these organisational geographies in London, see May et al., 2018).

 

Submission of evidence by Prof Jon May (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Andrew Williams (Cardiff University), Prof Paul Cloke (University of Exeter) and Dr Liev Cherry (Queen Mary University of London) 

 

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10 October 2019


[1] The research derived from the following paper currently under-review in the Journal of Rural Studies:

May, J., Williams, A., Cloke, P. and Cherry, L. (under-review) The variegated geographies of austerity and food banking in rural England and Wales (Journal of Rural Studies)