Food insecurity and food aid in multi-faith/multi-ethnic Britain: Advancing research and policy debates

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Health Science


Between 1st April and 31st March 2018, The Trussell Trust's food bank network distributed over 1,300,000 emergency food supplies to people in crisis (Trussell Trust, 2018), a twenty fold increase on 2010 (Loopstra et al., 2015). Evidence indicates that food banks are more likely to open in local authorities with greater welfare cuts and higher unemployment rates, suggesting that this increase is a question of demand not supply.

Food aid and food insecurity in the UK are the focus of a quickly-growing body of research. My PhD addressed a neglected topic within the area of food aid and food insecurity research. It looked at the ethnic and religious character of food aid providers, and the scale and experience of food insecurity. It studied food aid and food insecurity within the present-day ideological context, questioning how changing food insecurity and food aid relate to wider social, political and economic shifts. In doing so, it identified the need for two key changes to research, policy and practice. First, the need for a more thoughtful debate on food aid and food insecurity. This debate needs to address the varied experiences of different groups, as well as the complex relationship between food aid and government within multi-ethnic, multi-faith settings. Second, the need for changes to how food aid is provided to ensure religious and ethnic minority people are not excluded.

In addressing these key findings, the Fellowship has two main areas of work. The first aims to expand current research on food aid and food insecurity. It will do this by developing and publishing a new perspective on food aid and food insecurity, weaving social science theory on ethnicity and religion into debates on food charity. This will involve the development of a sole-authored book and the publication of one further article (seven already published from the PhD) in a world-leading journal. This article will discuss the PhD findings within a theoretical framework.

To follow-up the findings of the PhD, I will conduct a small-scale, study in Leeds on the experience of food insecurity among those ethnic minority groups not addressed in the PhD. This includes other South Asian groups (Indian and Bangladeshi), Black groups, people from Eastern Europe and members of the Roma community. This study will inform a larger grant application on ethnic and religious differences in food insecurity and food aid. This larger Fellowship will push the boundaries of food insecurity and food aid research by developing a new theoretical framework for researchers, drawing on social and political theory.
The second key area of work will involve collaboration with policy makers and practitioners to reduce ethnic and religious inequalities in access to food at a local and national level. I will work with local decision makers in Bradford to produce simple recommendations to tackle barriers to food access faced by ethnic and religious minority groups in local communities. The recommendations will be accompanied by guidelines on how they should be implemented.

To tackle exclusion within food aid, I will develop a network of food aid researchers and practitioners addressing food insecurity from a multi-faith/multi-ethnic perspective. The network will share knowledge and best-practice on the inclusion of all groups in food aid. The network will come together for a one-day workshop at the University of York in April. At the workshop, food aid organisations will produce guidelines on promoting inclusion in food aid. These guidelines will be publicised and distributed by key food aid governance organisations, including the Independent Food Aid Network and End Hunger UK.

I will develop my own research and management skills as part of the project. This will be done through training programmes and mentoring from leading academics at the University of York.
Description A rapid mapping exercise and survey identified 169 community food assets operating in the Bradford District, of which 139
remained operational throughout the first lockdown period (March to June 2020). 59 food aid services were newly set up during the first lockdown period, of which 79%
delivered food (prepared meal or food parcels). Of the food aid providers known to be operational over the first lockdown period, 48% were secular (n=66), 42% were Christian (n=59) and 9% were Muslim. 1% of food aid provision was Sikh (n=1). 22% of organisations distributing food during the first lockdown were able to tailor their
food provision to cultural preferences and dietary needs (n=31); 19% stated their ability was dependent on donations and available food supply (n=26); and 9% responded that
they could only offer a standardised service (n=12). Food aid services experienced multiple challenges in responding to increased demand during the first lockdown, including difficulties of organising staff, volunteers and service users amid social distancing rules; reduced volunteer availability; and the need for additional funding to adapt their operations to adequately cater for vulnerable individuals shielding at home
Exploitation Route The findings identified an over-representation of Christian food aid providers and an under-representation of food aid providers of other faiths. To improve the inclusivity of food aid it is important to ensure that the religious character of food aid providers reflects the demography of the local population.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

Description The Fellowship is predominantly impact focused. Impact is being created by translating my own existing research for the purpose of non-academic, particularly Third Sector audiences. Findings on the exclusion of ethnic minority groups from food banks and associated recommendations are being used by independent food aid providers to reassess and reform their practices around food distribution. This impact work is being delivered in partnership with the Independent Food Aid Network, a representative body of independent food aid providers. In addition findings on the range and inclusivity of community food assets in the Bradford District fed directly in Bradford Metropolitan District Council's Food Strategy and its response to Covid-19.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Societal

Description Membership of York Human Rights City Steering Group
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Participation in advisory committee to City of York Council Food Poverty Scrutiny Sub-committee
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Participation on the advisory panel, in particular the specific nature of the advice given, led to additional local authority funding for community food providers, reducing food poverty and improving well-being at the local level. It also focused local authority priorities on the structural drivers of food poverty, including a reassessment of local Council Tax Support.
Description COVID-19 and low-income families: poverty in the pandemic
Amount £277,043 (GBP)
Organisation Nuffield Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 12/2021
Description Ethnic and religious variations in food insecurity and the use of food aid in the UK: A mixed methods, interdisciplinary, multi-level research programme
Amount £24,114,786 (GBP)
Funding ID 221021/Z/20/Z 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2021 
End 12/2023
Title Food insecurity and food aid in York 
Description Data and research materials from participatory study on food, poverty and food aid in the City of York. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A - Too early to tell. 
Description Collaboration with Bradford Metropolitan Council and ActEaly around food aid 
Organisation Bradford Metropolitan District Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I initiated the partnership with Bradford Council and Feeding Bradford to assess and map community food assets in the area. I led the mapping process, coordinating assistance and advice from the partners, and led the completion of the interim and final report, assisted by a Research Assistant.
Collaborator Contribution In kind advisory support in design of project and in write up from Bradford Council's Public Health Department.
Impact Outputs include two policy briefing papers, co-authored with members of Bradford Council's Public Health Department: - Graven, C., Power, M., Jones, S., Possingham, S. & Bryant, M. (2021). The Range and Accessibility of Food Aid Provision in Bradford and the Impact of COVID-19, Bradford: ActEarly. - Graven, C., Power, M., Jones, S., Possingham, S. & Bryant, M. (2020). Interim Report: The impact of COVID-19 on the provision of food aid in Bradford, Bradford: ActEarly. Available at:
Start Year 2020
Description Series of public webinars for general audience 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Two webinars held to present on and debate key findings and issues in research in inequalities and food insecurity. First webinar included 100 attendees; second webinar included 145 attendees. Excellent feedback from both webinars and significant appetite for follow up webinars on similar topics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021