New research commissioned by Bath & North East Somerset Council has revealed high levels of food insecurity for older people who are on low incomes.
The two studies by the University of Bath concluded that social connection, as well as health and financial resources, are key to reducing the risk of food insecurity.
A questionnaire to B&NES residents receiving pension credit showed that nearly half of respondents (46%) reported some degree of food insecurity over the past 12 months.
Around a third of participants (34%) reported worrying about food running out before they could afford to buy more and indicated that it was often or sometimes true that they could not afford to eat balanced meals (33.6%). One in ten respondents said that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the past 12 months.
The most common source of support for respondents was friends and family. While most had people to help them if they really needed it, close to one quarter did not. Twenty-three percent said they did not have anyone locally they could depend on and one in ten felt they did not know anyone who would help them.
A second study, which carried out in-depth interviews with a smaller sample of older residents and health and care workers across B&NES, also highlighted social connection as protective against food insecurity. Alongside the rising cost of food and fuel, older people talked of tasks such as shopping, food preparation, and socialising as becoming increasingly difficult due to health and mobility issues, including access to suitable transport.
Bath & North East Somerset Council is urging people struggling with food insecurity to come forward for help with food and financial issues, and other support available locally.
Rebecca Reynolds, Director of Public Health and Prevention at Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “We commissioned this research to shed new light on the issue of food insecurity in B&NES as we knew from previous local research that older people were much less likely to use our food banks or food pantries. These findings add to our knowledge and will inform the work we do locally to address food insecurity. We’d urge anyone who is struggling to afford enough food to eat to get in touch with us at the earliest opportunity.
“Feedback from residents indicates that food insecurity in B&NES has risen recently. Alongside people on low incomes with children and those with disabilities, some older people are managing a complex set of challenges including low income, health and mobility issues and a lack of social connection affecting their ability to access, cook and eat affordable healthy food. Through sharing our findings we want to start a conversation with local communities about what more we can all do at a neighbourhood level to tackle food insecurity and social isolation.”
Residents who are struggling with food or in financial crisis can contact the Council’s Welfare Support Team on 01225 477277. The team can help with food, bills, household items and debt. They are available to help Monday to Thursday 9am to 5 pm (Wednesday 9.30 am to 5 pm), and Friday 9am to 4.30 pm https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/apply-welfare-support
You can also contact the Community Wellbeing Hub on freephone 0300 247 0050, Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm or at https://communitywellbeinghub.co.uk/. There is also information online at our cost-of-living hub https://livewell.bathnes.gov.uk/cost-living-support
Information on local food support across B&NES can be found online at https://www.banesfoodfinder.org.uk
Dr Leda Blackwood, Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, said: “Our research found that amidst the wealth of Bath and surrounding towns and villages, many people have been struggling for some time with food insecurity. People are incredibly resourceful but low wages and benefits and the loss of vital services through austerity have left their mark – particularly for those who don’t have family and friends they can rely on.”
The research report from University of Bath is available here
Food insecurity affects around one in six households in Bath and North East Somerset. The B&NES Fair Food Alliance has led on creating the B&NES Food Equity Action Plan, linking to wider strategies on food, health, inequalities and sustainability.
For further data on food insecurity in B&NES please see our Strategic Evidence Base https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/strategic-evidence