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Sustain / Food Access Network / What is food poverty?

Where does food poverty exist?

Food poverty is undoubtedly at its worst in ‘food deserts’ - areas where it is almost impossible to buy healthy food at reasonable prices without private transport, because there are no or virtually no shops.

A working group for the Low Income Project Team of the Nutrition Task Force (1996), suggested that areas without adequate retail provision were becoming more common in the UK and some areas had become food deserts - areas where low-income households (including older people and families) face poor accessibility to good quality retailing.

In 1997 the UK Government established the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) to investigate how to reduce poverty and tackle the breakdown of communities.   Social exclusion is defined as people or areas suffering from a combination of linked problems e.g. unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environment, bad health and family break down.  The SEU report a year later (Bringing Britain Together: a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, 1998) confirmed that some areas do not have adequate access to food shops, and that some local stores can be up to 60% more expensive than other food shops. 

Greengrocers and street markets, with their abundance of fresh produce at affordable prices provide opportunities for communities to eat more fruit and vegetables. However local independent shops and street markets are closing at an alarming rate in some parts of the country.  The increasing dominance of major and out-of-town supermarkets, coupled with shifts in working and shopping patterns and other social changes, means that some communities are well-served by 24-hour shopping services, while others are finding it increasingly difficult to find any decent shops at all.

Food Access Network: The Food Access Network (FAN-UK) was formerly the Food Poverty project, and is now superseded by the Local Action on Food Network. These archive pages give background information on the activities of FAN-UK, which worked to tackle diet-related ill health amongst the UKs most disadvantaged communities.

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