By Dr Caroline Moraes, University of Birmingham and Professor Morven McEachern, University of Huddersfield
In the forthcoming The Future of Society Festival, we will be discussing what it is like to live with and through food insecurity. Currently, 14.2 million people are living in poverty and experiencing vulnerability on multiple dimensions. One in five people in the UK are now living in poverty and in-work poverty rates are the highest they have been in the last 20 years.
Food aid usage continues to rise and, despite the ongoing escalation of emergency food provision, the UK Government announced plans to measure food insecurity as part of the Family Resources Survey only recently, with the first set of results expected in March 2021.
There is growing acknowledgement that there have been issues with the roll out of Universal Credit. These problems have meant that people from all walks of life can go weeks without any money at all, causing consumers experiencing vulnerability having to face decisions such as choosing between turning on the heating and buying food.
In our own research, we draw on the experiences of a range of food aid providers and the users of these food aid services in the Greater Manchester and Birmingham areas. Our findings reveal that a state of prolonged vulnerability exists for too many consumers, leading them to transition from emergency food consumption states to a longer-lasting use of alternative types of food aid such as food clubs or pantries.
Contrary to some of the existing media and political representations of these consumers as benefit abusers, what we have witnessed is a stigma attached to using community-based food banks and food aid, which acts as a barrier to seeking much needed support. In fact, many of our research participants talked about feeling shame, and even trauma, for having to rely on emergency food and/or food aid provision. There are many issues that tend to intersect, interconnect and interact (e.g., losing a job, losing the house, losing one’s support group, bereavement, divorce), leaving people with food insecurity. Poverty is, after all, a structural problem, so trying to shift responsibility to individuals for relying on benefits is problematic, to say the least.
Nevertheless, often, when people finally cross that barrier and seek help, they tend to find a sense of community and support in spaces of food aid provision. Aside from the food itself, meeting new people, forging new relationships of mutual support and the food aid services all help participants to engender a sense of community, reciprocity and duty of care towards themselves, others and the community volunteers who help. This is particularly the case regarding independent food aid providers. All of these elements, in turn, help to create positive coping strategies that enable consumers to address the negative effects of perceived stigma, personal circumstances and lack of support from core welfare systems and government services.
In our Living With and Through Food Insecurity event at The Future of Society ESRC Festival, we will be discussing some of these issues in more depth and from different perspectives. We will be joined by panellists Lynne Oakley (Elim Life Church Food Bank Volunteer Manager), Morven McEachern (Professor of Sustainability & Ethics, University of Huddersfield), David Beck (Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Salford) and Marsha Smith (The Super Kitchen / PhD Candidate at Coventry University). There will be a short screening of a scene from the film I, Daniel Blake and an opportunity to interact with panel members via audience polls. Food and toiletry donation boxes will be available during the event. You can register for the event here.