Foodbanks and other charitable activities are fast becoming an established part of austerity Britain. This paper is based on ethnographic research undertaken over a two-year period in North East England, exploring the lived experiences of health inequalities for residents in the most and least affluent areas. Findings show how the majority of foodbank users experienced stigma, fear, and embarrassment, which was at times aggravated by representations in ‘poverty porn’ television shows. Stigma could be overcome once people recognised that ‘other people like us’ were receiving a food parcel. Finally, the practice of ‘Othering’ was evident across the research sites.
This chapter examines how people living in two socially contrasting areas of Stockton-on-Tees experience, explain and understand the stark health inequalities in their town. Drawing on extensive ethnographic observations and over 100 qualitative interviews, documentary research, and photographic data with people living in one of the most and one of the least deprived neighbourhoods, this chapter emphasises the importance of stigma, place and perception in people’s everyday lives at a time of austerity. It focuses on three key themes: lay perspectives on inequalities, place and its meaning(s), and the relationship between austerity, family life and health. The chapter emphasises the importance of conducting ethnographic research across two socially contrasting neighbourhoods; explores how explanations for health inequalities, experiences of place, stigma, social networks and communities, and family life are all affected by austerity and cuts to the social security safety net; and it concludes by arguing for a prioritisation of listening to, and working to understand, the experiences of communities experiencing the brunt of health inequalities, especially important at a time of austerity.
Considerable research attention has been paid to identify and explain how health and place interrelate, and the resultant impact on health inequalities (Sloggett and Joshi, 1994; Curtis and Rees Jones, 1998; Macintyre et al., 2002; Bernard et al., 2007; Bambra, 2016; among others). Geographical research has been dominated by the debate between compositional (population characteristics of people living in particular areas including demographic, health behaviours and individual-level socioeconomic status) and contextual (area-level factors including the social, economic and physical environment) explanations.
This chapter charts the rapid and sudden transformation of families’ everyday lives in March 2020. Life was changed from “0 to 100” as the government shut down businesses and schools, and restricted people from leaving their homes. It sets out the diverse backgrounds of families on a low-income whose experiences make up this book, with some already on a low-income before the pandemic began, and others pushed into poverty because of the economic fallout from lockdown. This chapter describes how the everyday challenges of getting by on a low income were made much harder by the pandemic. It documents how ongoing security around jobs, budgeting, and accessing support had to be navigated, all against a backdrop of the fear of catching COVID-19.
This chapter focuses on the discourses around deservingness, choice, and gratitude in emergency food provision. As foodbank use has risen, the idea that more people are using foodbanks due to their availability has become a popular one within some sections of the mass media and the government. People accessing a foodbank are then perceived as the ‘undeserving poor’, seeking out free food so that they can spend their money on ‘luxury’ items such as alcohol, cigarettes, and large televisions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this political rhetoric has had a strong influence on beliefs about foodbank use and deservingness, and can lead to stigma, shame, and embarrassment for the people who need to use them. In reality, people are largely using foodbanks as a last resort, due to factors such as benefit delays, sanctions, debt, and low pay.
Becker (1967) poses the question Whose side are we on?, a question which has become an enduring part of discussions within social scientific methodology. This paper explores the key issues in Becker’s argument and considers its relevance to researchers today, locating this within a consideration of evaluation-based research and policy. Many of the issues Becker discusses remain relevant, yet what has changed radically is the context within which academics operate. In an era when academics and their research are becoming increasingly commodified, this paper contends that the question of who the academic serves and writes for is increasingly important.
Winner of the British Academy Peter Townsend Prize for 2013
How do men and women get by in times and places where opportunities for standard employment have drastically reduced? Are we witnessing the growth of a new class, the ‘Precariat’, where people exist without predictability or security in their lives? What effects do flexible and insecure forms of work have on material and psychological well-being?
This book is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between social exclusion, poverty and the labour market. It challenges long-standing and dominant myths about ‘the workless’ and ‘the poor’, by exploring close-up the lived realities of life in low-pay, no-pay Britain. Work may be ‘the best route out of poverty’ sometimes but for many people getting a job can be just a turn in the cycle of recurrent poverty – and of long-term churning between low-skilled ‘poor work’ and unemployment. Based on unique qualitative, life-history research with a ‘hard-to-reach group’ of younger and older people, men and women, the book shows how poverty and insecurity have now become the defining features of working life for many.
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The COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone – but, for some, existing social inequalities were exacerbated, and this created a vital need for research.
Researchers found themselves operating in a new and difficult context; they needed to act quickly and think collectively to embark on new research despite the constraints of the pandemic. This book presents the collaborative process of 14 research projects working together during COVID-19. It documents their findings and explains how researchers in the voluntary sector and academia responded methodologically, practically, and ethically to researching poverty and everyday life for families on low incomes during the pandemic.
This book synthesises the challenges of researching during COVID-19 to improve future policy and practice.
Also see ‘A Year Like No Other: Family Life on a Low Income in COVID-19’ to find out more about the lived experiences of low-income families during the pandemic.
The main focus of recent debates around disability, chronic illness and work has centred on access to paid work. Over the past two decades, this has also been at the heart of the social policy agenda in Britain with concerted efforts to maximise labour market participation. However, what is not discussed to the same extent is what happens after people enter employment and the challenges they may face in retaining it. This chapter explores these issues using evidence collected through a mixed methods evaluation of an in work support service. The service was available to assist employees and employers with job retention. Usually these problems were health related, but many individuals were also experiencing wider socio-economic difficulties, such as debt, which led to the creation of new health problems and the exacerbation of existing conditions. The chapter draws on a survey and a series of qualitative interviews undertaken with service users and the practitioners who delivered the service.
Money was already tight for UK families living on a low income before the COVID-19 pandemic, but national lockdowns made life much harder.
Telling the stories of these families, this book exposes the ways that pre-existing inequalities, insecurities and hardships were amplified during the pandemic for families who were already in poverty before COVID-19, as well as those pushed into poverty by the economic fallout it created.
Drawing on the Covid Realities research programme, and developed in partnership with parents and carers, it explores experiences of home-schooling, social security receipt and government, community and charitable support. This book sets out all that is wrong with the status quo, while also offering a powerful agenda for change.
Also see ‘COVID-19 Collaborations: Researching Poverty and Low-Income Family Life during the Pandemic’ (Open Access) to find out more about the challenges of carrying out research during COVID-19.