Policy and Intelligence Newsletter - 1 December 2021
Welcome to the Policy and Intelligence Newsletter, which explores a different theme each month, giving you data insights, policy analysis and signposts for further reading. There are also sections providing a news roundup and Parliamentary stories of interest. In the run-up to Christmas, we take a deep dive into the emotive issue of food insecurity in Cornwall.
- Cornwall Council is to receive £1.8 million over two years in Government funding to support direct flights between Newquay and London, reinstating the Public Service Obligation agreement. Jobs will be created, and a vital transport link secured.
- Citizen’s Advice Cornwall is delivering free one-day workshops to help participants explore tenancy agreements and responsibilities, manage money and debt, and give practical information to sustain and manage a successful tenancy. For more information, email tenancyworkshops@citizensadvice cornwall.org.uk.
- Cornwall Council is one of 13 local authorities chosen to deliver the new Partnerships for People and Place initiative, piloting innovative ways of working with central Government to address community issues such as crime, youth unemployment and health inequalities. Cornwall Council will receive a share of £5 million and specialist support to help communities find locally-led solutions, as part of the Levelling Up Agenda.
- NHS figures show that hospital admissions for malnutrition and scurvy have increased by over 50% in the last decade. The Trussell Trust provided 2.5 million emergency food parcels in 2020, compared to just under 41,000 in 2010.
- The number of children in council care could rise to 100,000 by 2025 – from 69,000 in 2015 – according to a new report from the County Councils Network (CCN). A shortage of foster carers is driving a rise in residential care use for vulnerable children.
- A report from the Building Research Establishment has found that low-quality housing costs the NHS in England £1.4 billion a year. Poor housing predominantly contributes to ill health through exposure to excess cold and injuries due to falls. More than a million falls on staircases were recorded in 2018, at an estimated treatment cost of £219 million.
- A report by CCN and Grant Thornton contains suggestions for Government and local authorities on how County Deals can be successfully and quickly delivered. A key recommendation is that the best governance model for single unitary authorities is a Leader and Cabinet with a non-statutory board.
- Every school and college in England will receive an Ofsted inspection by 2025, to assess the degree of recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
- The Charles Causley Trust, based in Launceston, will receive £95,000 from the third round of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. The Trust promotes creative writing and the arts, especially in the area where Charles Causley lived.
- Analysis by CCN has found that there are more public electric vehicle charging points in London than in all of England's counties combined. People living in more rural areas have an average of 16 miles between charging points, compared to an average of one mile in London and six miles in England's biggest eight urban regions.
- The National Youth Agency's Youth Sector Census report has found that access to youth clubs and organisations varies dramatically by place, with double the amount of provision in the most affluent areas compared to the most deprived parts of England.
- If you would like to help make someone else’s Christmas special, Volunteer Cornwall has a list of volunteering and donation opportunities; the Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum has produced a new Christmas Giving Catalogue; and Pirate FM’s Mission Christmas toy appeal has been launched.
View from Westminster
The Department of Health and Social Care has published a policy paper giving further information on reforms to the adult social care charging system. Details include a new £86,000 lifetime limit on individual payments for personal care; people with chargeable assets under £100,000 will not have to contribute more than 20% of those assets per year to personal care costs; and the threshold below which people will not have to pay anything from their assets for their care will rise from £14,250 to £20,000. However, Sir Andrew Dilnot, who led an influential commission on social care reform, has reportedly told MPs he is “very disappointed” with the change to the cost cap.
Reforms to the adult social care charging system come in the context of the new national Adult Social Care: Covid-19 Winter Plan, which establishes the governmental support available for the sector and sets out the key actions to be taken by local authorities, social care providers and the NHS over the winter. Support includes nearly £400 million in additional funding for testing and vaccination uptake in adult social care settings; free flu vaccinations for eligible care workers and carers; and free PPE for the ASC sector until March 2022.
A Government bill to reform the ground rent component of leaseholds is currently making its way through Parliament. The bill aims to effectively make ground rents for new long leases have no financial value, so that owning a leasehold becomes more affordable. Local trading standards authorities will have a duty to enforce the measure, if it passes into law, with planned financial penalties of up to £30,000 - which may be kept by local authorities to meet enforcement costs.
The new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has been officially established, with a mandate to make sure local authorities and businesses adhere to the UK’s green policy position. Before the UK’s exit from the European Union, the European Commission had carried out this compliance role. The OEP will launch a series of consultations on its strategic approach in the coming weeks.
The Committee for Housing, Communities and Local Government has issued its fifth inquiry report into Local Government and the Path to Net Zero. The inquiry has found that the existing funding regime, where local authorities are allocated money via competitive grants, makes it hard for councils to make long-term plans and may cause misallocation of resources.
The Government has introduced a bill addressing commercial debts built up during the pandemic, including a new arbitration process and code of practice to help landlords and tenants resolve Covid-19-related rent arrears. County Court and High Court judgements on these types of rent debts will be considered under the new arbitration process as of 10 November 21, and any bankruptcy proceedings started after this date will be voided.
The House of Lords Public Services Committee has published a report on Children in Crisis: the Role of Public Services in Overcoming Vulnerability, which has found that more than a million children in England are likely to have lower life chances and emotional damage as a result of cuts to family and support services such as Sure Start. Children from disadvantaged communities are likely to have been disproportionately affected over the last decade.
Deep dive: Food Insecurity
‘Hunger in the UK isn’t about food – it’s about people not being able to afford the basics.’
-Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust
Christmas is a time of bountiful feasts and warm family gatherings, which make this deep dive into food insecurity all the more poignant. Christmas notions of abundance contrast sharply with the reality for some of the poorest in our society, particularly as the last decade has witnessed a sizable proliferation of food banks, including here in Cornwall. Hunger is such an emotive issue, as securing enough food for oneself and family is a primary need – in one of the richest nations on Earth, it is confronting to consider that not everyone in the UK can afford life’s essentials. In this deep dive, we explore what food insecurity is, who it impacts and how, as well as what is being done in Cornwall to alleviate it.
What is food insecurity?
In the UK, food insecurity is when someone does not have the financial resources to ensure a reliable access to safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs. It can be transitory, acute, or chronic, and ranges in severity from worrying about having enough food, to going whole days without eating. Typically, those affected will have made trade-offs in terms of which basic necessities to prioritise at the expense of others: heating their home, but not eating dinner. This definition of food insecurity should not be conflated with the concept of food security in international relations which revolves around concerns pertaining to international trade, climate change and national security.
How prevalent is food insecurity?
The Food Standards Agency conducts biannual research entitled Food and You which investigates consumer attitudes and behaviours relating to the food environment. The latest findings show that across England, 15% of respondents were classified as food insecure, with 8% categorised as living in a state of ‘low’ food security and 7% as ‘very low’.
The University of Sheffield performed research into food insecurity in the UK and was able to generate statistics at the local authority level. Estimates for Cornwall are below:
Percentage of adults experiencing hunger, struggle or worry in Jan 2021 in Cornwall
Hungry is defined as having skipped food for a whole day or more in the previous month or indicated they were hungry but not eaten because they could not afford or get access to food.
Struggle is defined as a positive response to at least one of the following: sought help accessing food, skipped or shrank meal, gave a reason for not having enough food.
Worry is defined as choosing very worried or fairly worried about getting food.
(Please note that these percentages are not additive, therefore roughly one in ten people are to some degree food insecure in Cornwall.)
Who is most likely to be food insecure?
Research conducted by Cornwall Council’s Food Insecurity Group found that the root cause of food insecurity is poverty. To break it down further, research by the charitable organisation ENUF found three characteristics most associated with the risk of severe food insecurity:
- Being in the lowest income quartile.
- Long-term health problems or disability that limits daily activities.
Separate research by The Trussell Trust, a charity which operates a network of food banks, found that 62% of working age people who were referred to one of their food banks were disabled. In contrast, only 19% of working age adults in the general population are disabled, according to SCOPE.
Several Trussell Trust-commissioned studies give insights into the demographics of food bank users, - typically also those most at risk of food insecurity:
- All food bank users had an income substantially below the threshold of low income in the whole population. Most households reported incomes in the range of £100 to £500 per month, with a sample average £319.43.
- Food bank users typically experience multiple forms of destitution – 50% had gone without heating for over more than four days in the past 12 months, and 20% had slept rough in the previous 12 months.
- The most common household type using food banks were that of single men (39%).
- Lone parents and their children are notably more likely to use food banks, even in comparison to the wider low-income family population.
- Larger families of three or more children were overrepresented in the user population.
The profiles of those using food banks and individuals who are in a general state of food insecurity do not entirely overlap. The most striking difference in the two sets of profiles are that those aged 16-24 who report high levels of food insecurity have low levels of referrals to food banks.
Drivers of food insecurity
Poverty is the key driver, and food insecurity can result from occasional periods of precarity or a constant economic need. The Trussell Trust’s State of Hunger report found three core variables to be pivotal in food bank usage:
- Benefits: People experiencing problems receiving benefits or how some benefits in some places do not cover the cost of living. The linkages between food insecurity and social security are unsurprising given that welfare is the safety net that catches those who fall on hard times.
- Challenging life experiences or ill health: A majority of people referred to food banks had experienced at least one ‘challenging life event’ such as a divorce, a job loss or bereavement.
- Lack of formal or informal support: Food banks users had commonly exhausted support from family or friends, had a resource-poor social network or could not access support due to social isolation.
Yet food insecurity has remained at a stable level for many years in the UK, which suggests that aside from sporadic shocks, there are deeper structural causes. Some think tanks and charities have pointed towards low wages that do not cover the cost of living, in addition to cracks in the welfare safety net, and disability that prevents individuals’ from accessing healthy food. It should be emphasised that in work poverty has increased substantially in the past 25 years, where 37% of those below the official poverty line in 1994–95 and 58% in 2017–18 were in a working household. Low wages are a serious problem in Cornwall, an estimated 68,000 employees earn less than the Real Living Wage, which is equivalent to 4 out of 10 or 39% of all employees, whereas in GB this figure was a much lesser 25%. Cornish towns such as St Ives (48%), Camborne and Redruth (44%) have almost twice the proportion of low paid workers than the national average. In relation to living costs, rising rents appear to account for the main increases in household expenditure, according to Cardiff University research and other studies. Escalating housing costs is of course a key issue in Cornwall. Overall, more must be done in relation to wages which do not cover the cost of living. Food budgets are often the first area of household expenditure to be clipped in order to divert funds towards other vital necessities such as rent and heating.
Charities such as Sustain have clearly stated that reliance on overstretched food banks and food aid charities are not a sustainable safety net as these efforts only address the symptoms of deeper structural problems which lead to poverty, not the causes.
The impact of food insecurity
Food insecurity is one node within a web of deprivation and it has farther reaching effects than the gnawing unpleasantness of hunger. Constrained food budgets are often associated with selecting less varied, low nutrition, high calorie food options. Research has suggested that healthy foods are on average three times more expensive than unhealthy foods per calorie. Cheap junk food which often characterises the modern diet of many of the most disadvantaged has the pernicious consequence that it can make individuals simultaneously overweight and poorly nourished. Analysis of the annual National Diet and Nutrition Survey illuminates how children from the least well-off 20% of families, of which there will be considerable overlap of the food insecure group identified at the beginning of this piece, eat far less healthy food. These children consume around 29% less fruits and vegetables, 75% less oily fish, and 17% less fibre per day than children from the most well off 20%. The ramifications of this dietary disparity, both in children and adults, are severe and coalesce with other aspects of disadvantage to result in drastically lower relative levels of good health.
People living in the most deprived decile are almost twice as likely to die from all preventable causes, compared to those in the richest decile. They are 2.1 times more likely to die from preventable heart disease; 1.7 times more likely to die from preventable cancer; and 3 times more likely to have tooth decay at age 5. Their children are nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese at age 11. Obesity rates in children are much higher among the most deprived communities compared to the least, in 2020, 12.7% of all children in the most deprived socioeconomic group were classed as obese, compared to 6.3% in the least deprived. In Cornwall, 25.1% of children are overweight and obese children by the time they enter Reception (age 4-5), in comparison to the England average of 23%. Likewise, by the time children in Cornwall reach Year 6, 31.9% are overweight or obese. As another indicator of poor nutrition, children in deprived communities are more than 1 cm shorter on average than children in wealthy communities by the time they reach age 11.
Poor diet increases the risk of illness, it reduces a person’s quality of life as well as risking harm to their mental wellbeing and reducing their life chances. There is a case to be made that low wages and inadequate benefits which lead to an inability to buy good food cost all us as a society: poor health from poor nutrition can lead to gargantuan costs for the NHS. For example, obesity is also correlated with cheap food and a poor diet and is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The cost of diabetes to the NHS is over £1.5m an hour or 10% of the entire annual NHS budget for England and Wales. This equates to over £25,000 being spent on diabetes every minute. In total, an estimated £11.7b is spent a year on treating type 2 diabetes and its complications.
Another dimension of food insecurity is the relationship between children’s educational attainment and hunger. Hunger and malnutrition affect a child’s ability to concentrate, to absorb and retain new information and to make progress in their learning. Less affluent youngsters struggling to develop intellectually due to hunger has profound implications for our societies’ meritocratic principles and whether we can unlock the potential of our younger generations.
These are but a few examples of the linkages which suggest that food poverty costs all of us dearly, beyond those immediately affected. Ensuring that work and benefits cover the cost of living for all citizens may be more cost effective than society paying in other ways for the fallout of food poverty.
The work underway
As the root cause of food insecurity is poverty, only comprehensive structural changes can entirely vanquish the blight of food insecurity. However, structural problems aside, voluntary organisations primarily as well as Cornwall Council are working to alleviate food insecurity in our Cornish communities. There is a sprawling network of charitable organisations in Cornwall that have taken a lead role in food bank provision and associated activities. You can find out about just some of the good work being done here.
Recently, Cornwall Council received £679K from DEFRA to support those afflicted by food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. This funding pot led to the establishment of the Food Insecurity Group and a grant scheme. Grants were used to support Cornwall’s community food groups, where they could apply for up to £25K for resources such as delivery vans, food storage and volunteer expenses. The funding has supported over 60 community food groups. The Food Insecurity Group have also collaborated with the Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum who have established the Cornwall Food Access Alliance. These and other measures undertaken by Cornwall Council are helping to strengthen local community groups and work towards more holistic service provision for those in need.
Want to get involved?
If you would like to learn more about food insecurity in Cornwall, an excellent resource is the conference report You can’t eat the view from the End Hunger Cornwall Conference, organised by the Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum, the Diocese of Truro and others. Cornwall Council’s Food Insecurity Group have created a Help With Food map of emergency food provision that supports people to locate and access emergency food as well as enabling professionals to signpost anyone in need to relevant support. The Helping Hand webpage also offers a signposting service and detailed information to support people with a range of needs. The Food Access Alliance’s webpage contains helpful resources as well as information on how you could get involved.
Additionally, Transformation Cornwall are a faith-based institution which releases a monthly newsletter which contains information on current food banks and how potential donors can get involved.
Information in the newsletter is correct at time of writing, 9am on Monday 29 November.