Case study: Morven McEachern

M McEachern Staff photo .png

Programme: Small Research Grants round: 2017-18

Project title: Transitioning from food banks to supermarkets: a vulnerable individual’s perspective

Name of PI: Professor Morven McEachern, University of Huddersfield

Project dates: 1 April 2018 – 30 April 2019

Amount awarded: £9,876

Funding source: Society for the Advancement of Management Studies

Around 14.2 million people are said to be living in poverty in the UK, facing food insecurity and other vulnerabilities each day (Social Metrics Commission, 2018). It is increasingly recognised that those using emergency food provisions are aged 25-64 (Cooper and Dumpleton, 2013; Zipfel et al., 2015). While existing research highlights the growing number of food support initiatives such as food banks, there is little practical or policy advice to help people move out of food poverty.

Data on community-based food aid are largely based on individuals who use the 1,200 emergency services provided by the Trussell Trust food banks. This overlooks the further 809 community-based food services that are operating independently and underplays the scale of food insecurity amongst people throughout the UK. This project sought to gain a better understanding of how vulnerable adults manage their food insecurity focusing on Birmingham and Salford – two of the UK’s most deprived local authorities (EID 2015). It examined the help offered by emergency food providers to help people out of food poverty and what additional types of support are needed to help people in this position.

The findings showed that while many food aid providers discussed at length the range of support activities they had on offer, there were concerns such services could contribute to advancing the institutionalisation of food banks in the UK. Therefore, it is essential to concede that the public cannot resolve food insecurity without addressing the impact of welfare reform and austerity, to which much of food poverty is attributable.

The researchers identified four key policy recommendations:

  1. Reduce barriers to accessing food aid
  2. Introduce legislation ensuring the right to a just food system
  3. Accelerate legislation around a sustainable food surplus policy
  4. Undertake a review of the impact of welfare reform on food insecurity

Coinciding with the 26th anniversary of the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Professor McEachern received an invitation to participate in the Social Audit Network’s annual conference in 2018 to provide an impactful and improved understanding of poverty to attendees.

Through an end of project dissemination event, which took place in April 2019, the findings were directly shared with policymakers from both the Birmingham (Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, City of Birmingham) and Greater Manchester area (Paul Dennett, City Mayor of Salford). Responses to our research from various stakeholders can be read in full.

The research also fed into a Birmingham Business School campaign seeking to generate food donations during Christmas. The campaign was led by Dr Caroline Moraes and Kate Henderson, and was titled "Cans, not Cards". The project sought to encourage all staff in the Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, to use the money they would otherwise spend on cards to buy food and toiletry products instead. The team collected about 300 food items and toiletries, which were then delivered prior to Christmas to one of the foodbanks that took part in the research in Birmingham.

The research also fed into the preparation of the first Birmingham Business School Responsible Business Forum, which addressed the theme of volunteering and took place in February 2019 at the University of Birmingham.

The team have presented their research at numerous events throughout 2019 including invited presentations to the Social Justice Unit, Scottish Government, and the Future Food Symposium, Nottingham as well as the eighth International Conference on Social Responsibility, Ethics and Sustainable Business at the University of Minho in Portugal and the seventh International Symposium on Marketing Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility in Karlstad, Sweden.

The team also hosted an event at the ESRC Festival of Science in Birmingham in November 2019, which aimed to highlight the experiences of people facing food insecurity in the UK to the general public. In addition, Dr Caroline Moraes disseminated the research findings during her participation at the 2019 British Science Festival panel titled Tackling Food Poverty, alongside celebrity chef and Guardian journalist Jack Monroe, and Christine Eade from Pod Café in Coventry. A blog post about the panel is available.

Building on our published paper in Sociology around lived experiences of food insecurity from a paraliminality lens, the team are planning to submit a follow-on research bid to the ESRC in collaboration with international research partners and NGOs.

" I am particularly appreciative of the funding supplied by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant scheme. As a result of receiving funds to cover research assistance for our data collection, I could concentrate on data analysis, dissemination, stakeholder engagement and academic writing. Another benefit from securing these funds is that our planned research bid for a wider international study will be strengthened by the small policy impact already achieved from our initial, exploratory study where we were invited to present our findings to the Social Justice Delivery Unit, Scottish Government."

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