Volunteers from Healthwatch Shropshire went to food shops in five towns looking for 20 essential items and found a massive £25.18 difference between the lowest in Ludlow, at £18.51, and the highest in Clun, a whopping £43.69.
The shopping basket research was carried out as part of an extensive look at food insecurity in the area. The findings of the report have been described as "stark".
“The findings from those with a lived experience of food insecurity are especially stark and highlight this growing problem and its impact on people’s health and wellbeing," said Rachel Robinson, Shropshire Council’s director of public health.
Stigma was highlighted as a major barrier to support, with one interviewee reporting that they had chosen not to go to a food bank because they did not want to be seen, while another family admitted travelling out of their town to access a food bank further away.
Ruth Davies, the coordinator of Ludlow Food Bank, says she is seeing a record number of people coming through the doors for help.
"We are on track to help more people in 2021 than we did in 2020, which we thought was a freak year," she said, saying she was surprised that the Ludlow shopping basket had the lowest cost.
Families on the breadline are facing the loss of £87 each month through reductions in Universal Credit, at the same time as the winter and its higher energy bills are on the line.
"We get calls from people who are desperate and they do not know where to turn to," said Ruth.
Healthwatch Shropshire is an independent health and social care champion and they were part of a pilot project, funded by Shaping Places for Healthier Lives programme.
They've worked with Shropshire Council’s public health team, Citizens Advice Shropshire and Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance members to hear from individuals and families with lived experience of food insecurity.
It has all led to Shropshire Council being awarded £300,000, over three years, to tackle food insecurity in south west Shropshire.
The plan is to get the public and voluntary sectors working together, to make sure people get the right support at the right time, and to support people who are in financial need to prevent them reaching crisis.
Lynn Cawley, Healthwatch Shropshire chief officer, said: “We are delighted to have played a part in the project ensuring that the voices of those experiencing food insecurity are at the heart of this work, and we are really looking forward to seeing how this funding makes a difference to the health and wellbeing of those living with food poverty.”
The shopping basket comparison was carried out at key supermarkets in Ludlow, Craven Arms, Clun, Bishops Castle and Church Stretton. The 20 items were everyday food and household goods.
For those in Ludlow there was more choice and opportunity to shop around but others in the hamlets and villages experienced greater difficulty.
The researchers also heard a high level of concern that people in South-West Shropshire must travel to Leominster to go to a job centre, a distance of approximately 20 miles from Craven Arms for example.
Local knowledge from Healthwatch Shropshire and Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance identified key supermarkets in five locations and compared these to an ASDA on-line price guide. (There are no ASDA supermarkets in The South-West of Shropshire).
Healthwatch Shropshire volunteers researched prices at these stores:
Aldi Ludlow - £18.51
Tesco Ludlow - £20.27
Church Stretton Co-op - £33.56
BC Co-op - £34.37
Tuffins Craven Arms - £37.19
Clun Spar - £43.69
The researchers took into account differences in what was stocked and substitute goods but did not consider choice of products or special dietary provision such as the availability of gluten free items.
Report outlines the problems described by those facing food insecurity
News from our partners Healthwatch Shropshire
Meanwhile a new report by Healthwatch Shropshire, also published on Thursday, has highlighted the impact of food insecurity on people living in the south west of the county.
As part of a pilot project, funded by Shaping Places for Healthier Lives programme, the group worked with Shropshire Council’s public health team, Citizens Advice Shropshire and SFPA to hear from individuals and families with lived experience of food insecurity and those who work to support them.
The full report can be found here: https://www.healthwatchshropshire.co.uk/report/2021-11-11/food-insecurity-project-south-west-shropshire