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No more Sunday dinners: food insecurity and welfare reform in Northeast England

Lookup NU author(s): Joel Halligan, Professor Suzanne Moffatt, Dr Wendy Wrieden, Professor Clare BambraORCiD


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This paper presents findings from an ongoing qualitative study of how working-age benefits claimants have been affected by the UK governments’ programme of ‘welfare reform’ (WR). The purpose of this research is to explore how changes to benefits as a result of WR may impact, at the micro level, upon determinants of health – the findings presented here relate specifically to diet and food insecurity. Understanding the processes that link food insecurity and diet – and how WR may impact these – is important, given the recent increases in food aid, malnutrition, and enduring health inequalities in the geographical areas worst affected by WR. Eighteen working-age people (8 male, 10 female) were recruited from a disadvantaged, urban area in Northeast England and interviewed about their lived experiences of WR. Participants perceived their food choices to be strongly shaped by their current financial circumstances, and that income losses as a result of WR have had adverse impacts on their diet. Income losses included, for example, reductions in housing benefit as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’ or the benefit cap, and cuts to weekly benefit rates after losing claims for Employment and Support Allowance and therefore having to transfer to Jobseeker’s Allowance. Discretionary Housing Payment awards helped to mitigate these impacts, but participants feared the end of these time-limited awards. Participants described complex strategies for obtaining food on a low-income. These strategies – influenced by food skills, planning skills, and physical access to food – were situated within socially and culturally embedded practices and norms. Participants talked about the monotony of their diet, and the prioritisation of satiety over taste or pleasure. This issue was particularly pronounced for those on the lowest incomes. Cost of food tended to be given primacy over nutritional value. Food crises, resulting in the need to access food aid, occurred for some of the participants. These findings show that the processes linking WR, food insecurity and diet are complex. Nonetheless, there are implications for the health and wellbeing of those impacted. Cuts to income, as a result of WR, have had stark implications for some, particularly those affected by the bedroom tax. Besides the need to consider how WR has caused and exacerbated experiences of food insecurity, policy approaches to address inequalities in diet and diet-related disease also need to consider how food insecurity shapes people’s diets.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Halligan J, Moffatt S, Wrieden W, Bambra C

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 50th Anniversary Conference of the Social Policy Association Social Inequalities: Research, Theory, and Policy

Year of Conference: 2017

Online publication date: 10/07/2017

Acceptance date: 01/03/2017