Distribution of emergency supplies by food banks in Dorset has soared. According to the Trussell Trust, between April 2018 and March 2019, the charity provided 12,844 emergency three-day food packages at food banks in the county – 36 per cent of them to children and more than fifth more than the previous year.
A third of children in Dorset live in poverty: in some areas of Weymouth and Portland the figure is more than 40 per cent. South Dorset ranks 533rd out of 533 parliamentary constituencies in England on the government’s Social Mobility Index, which measures the life chances of disadvantaged children – how they progress through school, and what jobs and income they receive as adults. The area has long lurked at the base of the national index – now it’s at the very bottom. A former senior executive of Dorset County Council called this “Dorset’s Shame”.
Low wages, even when supplemented by benefits, are insufficient to cover healthy food budgets. Household poverty means poor nutrition and disease: Weymouth and Portland has the highest level of child obesity in the South West.
Meanwhile, among adults in deprived areas, rates of obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, mental ill-health and self-harm exceed national averages. Poverty is a threat to life expectancy and a factor in suicide and alcohol-related deaths.