As with many areas across the UK, the use of food banks and emergency food aid has risen in Plymouth in recent years, and has higher levels of deprivation and lower life expectancy than the national average.
Effective food policy is badly needed, which is why students are taking action through Dissertations for Good.
“I wanted to write about food poverty due to my experiences working with statutory homeless people as a support worker in temporary housing”, explains student Natalie White. “I saw first-hand how difficult it was for people to manage to eat regularly, let alone healthily”
There are many reasons why people might be unable to access decent food. This project will explore the various barriers, and support practical ways of removing them.
“When someone has a budget of £15 a week for food and living due to ongoing debts it is not surprising they have to choose which days to eat”, Natalie says.
“Numerous clients of mine would go through the bins behind supermarkets and end up eating nothing but bread as a result. Although soup kitchens do exist, many people refused to go to these due to the other people who used these services or the distance they would have to travel to get to them. And using food banks often requires you to be involved in services and have a referral, so is not straightforward for many people”.
Clearly, there are many issues to unpick.
Using focus groups and questionnaires, these students will work with various groups at risk of food poverty in the community – from single parents, to homeless people, to drug users – to get a clearer idea of the scale and nature of the food poverty crisis as part of writing their dissertations.
Identifying the problems – whether they be educational, economic, accessibility, or whatever – will enable local organisations and authorities to take action on one of the UK’s most pressing social issues.
“Our research will provide local evidence to support future strategies being developed to tackle food poverty”, explains project supervisor Clare Pettinger. “The evidence linking practice and policy in this area is currently fragmented so this project can feed into this gap”.
“I think being involved in Dissertations for Good could certainly help improve the social impact by bringing more attention to the compromises, problems and challenges facing harder to reach populations”, agrees Natalie.
We all know that education is a social good. With Dissertations for Good, we can take that idea even further. In Plymouth, it begins with tackling food poverty – making sure that everyone has access to decent, healthy food.