Found Wanting - Understanding journeys into and out of food insecurity: a longitudinal study

The Gathering 2018

Year of publication
Dr Mary Anne MacLeod

To tackle food insecurity, nothing is more important
than an adequate and secure income. We have long
known that action is therefore needed to bolster
the social security safety net and to ensure work
genuinely protects people from crisis through action,
including by employers, to improve the quality of
work. However, to date, a fuller understanding of
the lives of those facing food insecurity in Scotland
has been missing. This research seeks to help plug
that gap by engaging with – and listening to –
people facing food insecurity to discover how their
circumstances change over time. Our intent was
clear: we wanted to identify how people’s substantial
personal efforts towards a life free from hunger,
and the fear of it, can be better supported by actors
operating across the public, private and third sectors.
In this report, we give deliberate prominence to the
words of those we spoke with. We are hugely grateful
to them for sharing their experiences.

Methodology: 40 individuals were recruited for an interview who had recent
(during the previous two weeks) experience of acute
food insecurity (having no money for food). Twentytwo took part in a second interview four to six weeks
later, and ten were interviewed for a third time a year later.

Key findings
What participants told us was deeply personal and often
painful. Despite food and social security being basic
human rights, some consider themselves as somehow
undeserving of support. For many participants, a
lack of money to buy food is one challenge amongst
many. It interacts with, and exacerbates, wider issues
from ill-health to homelessness, debt, bereavement,
and caring responsibilities. Three-quarters of
participants reported some form of mental ill-health,
a finding that underscores the need to consider food
insecurity as a public health emergency.

Key findings

  1. Food insecurity has considerable physical,
    psychological and social impacts on individuals
    and families;
  2. Shame is a key barrier to those seeking help
    in a crisis, and the nature of support provided
    can make a significant difference to a person’s
  3. Inadequate and insecure incomes from work
    and social security are the key triggers for food
  4. Failures of existing social security and wider
    public services leave people with adverse life
    experiences acutely vulnerable to food insecurity;
  5. People with ill health and caring responsibilities
    are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity,
    which in turn makes managing these situations
    even more difficult; and
  6. People make use of informal networks and
    non-specialist services to help resolve financial
    challenges driving food insecurity.
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