The Last Resort? Exploring the impact living with food insecurity has on relationships with family and friends

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


This research aims to explore the everyday lived realities of food poverty and its consequential impact on relationships with family and friends.

In Britain, the last decade has seen mounting food insecurity against a backdrop of austerity policies. Latest figures from Independent Food Aid Network's mapping project estimate that at least 2,000 foodbanks are currently operating in the UK (IFAN, 2017). During an ethnographic study into food poverty in Stoke-on-Trent, participants spoke of relying on family and friends for food gifts and cash loans. Using a foodbank was often a last resort, yet the impact of such reliance on personal relationships remains unknown.

Data from the largest national research project on food insecurity in Britain has revealed over 78% of households are severely food insecure (Loopstra & Lalor, 2017). In households that could not afford an adequate diet for their children, 93% had at least one adult regularly skimping on their own food in order to feed their children (Caplan, 2016). An additional cause for concern is the impact of Brexit on the country's 'food poor' (Lang et al, 2017) amid the likelihood of rising food prices in the wake of Britain's departure from the EU.

There is a gap in the literature on how food poverty is managed within households, and its effect on relationships. In an attempt to understand family support, Finch and Mason (1993) examined how it is negotiated within families and how far it is based on a sense of duty and obligation. Hall's (2016) ethnographical research focused on the everyday experiences of families struggling to get by in the recent economic recession, emphasising family relationships as crucial in shaping our understanding of how people manage in times of crisis.

Key Research Questions
The study will investigate three broad areas with the following key research questions:
1) Relationships with family and kin
How is food insecurity managed within households practically, and what is the impact on relationships with family and friends?
2) Forms of support
What sort of help/support is sought from family and friends, and how is this negotiated?
3) Impact on parenting
How does food insecurity affect how people see themselves as parents, and what impact does this have on parent/child relationships?

An ethnographic design will be used to explore and capture the everyday lived realities of people experiencing food poverty. As it will be necessary to build relationships with the participants, ethnography is considered to be an effective methodological approach because of its ability to elicit rich, holistic insights into people's experiences (Hall, 2011 and 2016).

In order to discover and describe people's perspectives, social situations and relationships, a qualitative methodology will be utilised. Ethnography allows for a combination of research methods to be used (Blaikie, 2010), therefore several methods will be considered, including cameras, digital-recorders and in-depth interviews. It is anticipated that the length of the ethnography will be approximately 10-12 months.

Participants will be recruited through contacts made while volunteering at several foodbanks across Stoke-on-Trent.

This research has the potential to add to new knowledge through exploring the relational character of food and families, particularly the ways in which families support each other while at the same time the shame of food insecurity is often a barrier in asking for support. An analysis of the everyday lived realities of food insecurity and its impact on relationships with family and friends will draw attention to the accounts of food aid recipients, for which, as stated by Cloke et al (2016), there is an overwhelming responsibility. In a continued landscape of austerity policies and the imminent departure of the UK from the EU, this research is also timely.


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