UK food deserts: 1.2 million people too far from supermarkets to get cheap fresh food

The first map of its kind reveals food access and affordability across the country.

If you want to know what food insecurity looks like, it’s a queue of people waiting in the drizzle outside an Oldham community centre for fresh food they can’t otherwise afford.

A queue that begins an hour before the doors even open.

Once a week a charity comes here to sell people three bags of supermarket donations for just £7.

The bags contain fresh vegetables, meat, fish among other things.

It’s not means tested.

It’s for anyone who needs it.

And there are plenty.

The charity is working at full capacity supplying 160 people a week with food but they have a waiting list 100 strong.

A mother named Sandra tells me: “It helps me and my daughter because my daughter’s got learning difficulties.”

She’s not able to walk far so getting to an affordable supermarket is difficult and a taxi is an extra cost.

A man named John tells me it feels “demeaning” but as a single dad, he says it’s what he has to do.

Oldham is on the edge of one of these so-called “food deserts”.

The worst food deserts in England are in Hull, Bristol and Tameside.

The three worst in Scotland are all in Glasgow

And in Wales they’re in Cardiff and Newport.

Of the 1.2 million people living in these food-poor areas, 10% have even cut back on their own food consumption so others in their family can eat.

And this figure climbs to 14% among people with a household income of less than £10,000.

One of the report contributors calls the situation “appalling.”

Food security expert Megan Blake from the University of Sheffield said: “We need to rethink the welfare reforms that are going on because they’re creating a bigger problem for people.”

“We also need to support local communities in what they’re doing around food insecurity.

“Food is more than nutrition and calories.

“Food is what brings us together.”

People living in these food deserts are likely to pay a higher cost for their weekly food shopping as they’re more reliant on more expensive convenince stores with fewer fresh food options.

The research – commissioned by Kellogg’s – shows 41% of these households don’t have a car making it harder to get to good value supermarkets and a third of people on low incomes would never use online shopping.

Jamie Hughes who works for “The Bread and Butter Thing” in Oldham shook his head when I asked him what these people would do if they didn’t have this source of food.

He said: “I wouldn’t want to think about it.

“Just purely because if they didn’t have it, how would they get to shops or how would they afford the amount of food we’re giving them for £7? I’d hate to think.”

This isn’t just about feeding people.

It’s about helping people’s health too.

One woman tells me she’s lost 5 stone since she began collecting her 3 bags of fresh food a week.

It’s not just been a lifeline, it’s changed her life.

Sharon said: “When I first came here I used to come in a mobility scooter because my joints were that bad.

“But now I can walk more. It’s more healthy food.”

The UK is still a wealthy nation, but it doesn’t feel it when you see people relying on charity to eat.

A government spokesperson said in a statement: “We are determined to support households to eat healthily.

“Since 2010, one million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty, including 300,000 children.

“We support 1.1 million children with free school meals and 300,000 pregnant women, families and children under four with Healthy Start Vouchers for free fruit, vegetables and milk.

“We are also investing £15 million to increase the amount of surplus food from retailers and manufacturers redistributed to charities and community groups every year.”

Find out where Britain’s food deserts are by clicking on the green or red dots:

England’s most deprived food deserts:

1. Marfleet, Greatfield, Hull
2. Hartcliffe, Bristol
3. Hattersley, Mottram, Tameside
4. Seaforth, Sefton, Liverpool
5. Withywood, Bishopsworth, Bristol
6. Clubmore, Norris Green, Liverpool
7. Greet, Sparkbrook, Birmingham
8. Astmoor, Castlefields, Halton, Norton and Windmill Hill, Birmingham
9. Everton, Vauxhall, Liverpool
10. Kirby, Melling Mount, Simonswood, Knowsley

Wales’ most deprived food deserts:

1. St Mellons, Old St Mellons, Cardiff
2. Rumney, Trowbridge, Cardiff
3. Bishpool, Liswerry, Ringland, Newport
4. Rhosnesni, Caia Park, Wrexham
5. Rhyl, Denbighshire
6. Milford, Vaynor, Trehafren, Maesyrhandir, Powys
7. Rhigos, Hirwaun, Penywayn, Cefn Rhigos, Penderyn, Llwydocoed, Rhodda Cynon Taf
8. Llanrumnet, Cardiff
9. Brynmawr, Pontygof, Clydach Terrace, Blaenau Gwent

Scotland’s most deprived food deserts:

1. Dalmarnock, Glasgow
2. Central Easterhouse, Glasgow
3. Wyndford, Glasgow
4. Drumchapel North, Glasgow
5. Crookston South, Glasgow
6. Methil West, Levinmouth
7. Drumchapel South, Glasgow
8. Craigend and Ruchazie, Glasgow
9. Glenwood South, Glasgow
10. Granton South and Wardieburn, Edinburgh

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