Scoping exercise in relation to expanding the Social Supermarket provision in Causeway Coast and Glens

Sinéad Furey, Beth Bell

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Food insecurity: Food insecurity/poverty is the inability to afford or access food in sufficient quantities or the anxiety of being unable to do so in a socially acceptable way. Earlier research in CCG area (Furey et al., 2016) found food insecurity to be an issue of concern for its citizens for whom the gross full-time median weekly wage was £448, 19% lower than the NI figure of £535 and where both relative (18%) and absolute poverty (16%) were higher than the average for NI (17% and 15% respectively). CCG has two social supermarkets (SSMs) and two food banks in its catchment although other support agencies also provide some food aid. The purpose of this scoping exercise was to develop the specification for a tailored SSM model that meets the need for Causeway Coast and Glens. This is important given the challenges of service provision in terms of accessibility and transport for an expansive geography that includes large rural areas.

Food aid models: Food banks have existed since 1967 in the USA (1984 in Europe) and the first SSM was introduced in 1990 in Austria. Internationally, food aid organisations offer food and wraparound support to start to address the underlying causes of (food) poverty. While there is some commonality in approach, different operating models exist. There are interesting developments around a SSM-type model where access is not limited to people at risk of poverty and either differential pricing policies are applied to people on different incomes, more nutritional products have greater discounts applied to them than their less nutritious counterparts, or the general population is encouraged to shop there for environmental reasons to reduce the amount of edible food going to landfill. Unfortunately, despite the existence of food aid organisations, food insecurity continues to increase.

CCG primary research findings: CCG data suggest that many people who need help (as identified from the other answers) are not accessing support from food banks or SSMs. The common causal factor for presenting at food banks/SSMs is reduced income. Security of food donations in the medium term is not concerning although should FareShare have to increase its tariff to community food members this would have implications for future stocking densities. Operating costs are more concerning with energy prices cited most often as a pressing issue while the evidence is clear that running costs and funding received are hugely supplemented by substantial voluntary hours. While the food aid is important, recipients also welcomed how food parcels freed up money to afford other essentials for living – notably electricity, gas, oil, petrol and debt repayments, while the social aspect of the friendly reception by volunteers and the subsequent advice offered were recognised to be at least equally as important as the original food aid. Education was considered key to breaking the cycle of poverty while early intervention and giving people responsibility for their own outcomes were upheld as important prerequisites of any successful intervention. All participants agreed that the system is broken and the underlying causes of food and financial insecurity must be identified and eradicated. There needs to be a balance struck between taking away the stigma without institutionalising the need. None want charitable food aid to be perpetuated as the default solution to poverty yet participants could not articulate an alternative to their existence when so many remain in need.

Recommendations: The research indicates that in the short term there is merit in raising awareness of the food aid and advisory support services available across the Borough, alongside increasing awareness of discounted surplus food that is available to all without confusing the environmental agenda as a solution to food insecurity. It is prudent to consider the necessary trade-off(s): do we widen food support to provide food access to the greatest number of people possible within operating limits or do we narrow capacity to offer more comprehensive wraparound support?

Priority actions included:
Addressing the underlying causes of (food) poverty: introduce a cash-first approach to bolstering people’s incomes (through continued advocacy and campaigning for income maximisation through work that pays alongside a fit for purpose welfare system that provides an adequate safety net for those unable to work). Additionally, the community sector should ask for financial donations and not food donations so that any support in-kind may enable and empower clients to afford and choose their own food with dignity.

CCG could investigate/pilot other models for low-cost food provision (eg) Social Super Discount Stores, community food hubs, Apps etc. Councillors should encourage initiatives with local retailers to make healthy food more affordable.

The location of any SSM/food bank is a key consideration while more sustainable, long-term solutions are progressed. It needs to be accessible and served by public transport but discreet enough to afford privacy to clients. No one SSM/food bank can reasonably deliver food and wraparound support in a face-to-face way with the appropriate level of intensity without a dilution effect. The working relationships between CCG’s two SSMs are mutually supportive, and it is the recommendation of this research that any funding is contingent on both being required to offer the accessibility so needed by the prospective client base from both urban and rural environs. Additionally, the programmes should be designed with sufficient flexibility to accommodate the individual needs of each client via more reactive / responsive/dynamic/lighter/more in-depth tailored versions – the tapering or extension of programme support should be made possible so that clients may progress at a pace sustainable to them.

Any grant funding for community sector initiatives should be simplified, streamlined and standardised so that their workers and volunteers may focus on the more impactful work without being distracted by overly cumbersome administration.

Explore if community initiatives’ buildings can become zero rated for local rates in order to significantly reduce their operating costs through this cost-of-living crisis.

Fuel support: CCG should increase awareness raising of the DfC-funded Fuel Scheme and other fuel support initiatives.

Lower-cost energy cooking equipment: There is some support for the provision of air fryers. This may be particularly appropriate given the lower running costs of air fryers compared to conventional ovens.

Help to Save: CCG should increase awareness of the Government scheme where the government match-funds individuals’ savings after three years.

Longer-term considerations: CCG Councillors can proactively advocate for wider policy solutions that are not within their gift to deliver, for example, a fit for purpose benefits system that maintains pace with inflation and retains the £20 uplift and other Welfare Mitigation, Right to Food legislation, cash-first approach, commitment to and promotion of the Real Living Wage, extension of eligibility and (universal) provision of free school meals, healthy start vouchers, breakfast clubs, school holiday food provision and exploration of Universal Basic Income.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyCauseway Coast and Glens Borough Council
Number of pages56
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Dec 2022


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