As the United Kingdom plunges further into an intense cost of living crisis, the people of Edinburgh are finding it increasingly difficult to afford nutritious meals for themselves and their families. Lived experience of this context is a key focus for a new research project commissioned by City of Edinburgh Council. In this blog, Diffley Partnership’s Head of Research, Fiona Hutchison, explains more.

Food insecurity or food poverty ranges from worry about running out of food to actually running out of food and adults and children experiencing hunger. Certainly, the cost of food plays a part. According to the latest BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index (SPI), UK food prices have soared by a record 10.6% in September, with fresh food products costing a record 12.1% more than this time last year. At the same time, as pointed out in a recent article in the Big Issue  the strain of other budgeting costs such as rents and utilities bills can mean less money to play with for regular, nutritious food. Indeed, Edinburgh Partnership Community Plan 2018-2028 revealed that 19% of Edinburgh residents work for hourly wages below the level set by the Living Wage Foundation, with 8% of workers unable to work for as many hours as they would like each week.

Edinburgh Partnership committed to the development of a new strategy, setting out the partnership responses needed to end poverty related hunger in Edinburgh. Their strategy is drafted – Ending Poverty Related Hunger in Edinburgh – with their consultation live for responses until 2 November 2022. The final strategy will provide a framework for the City of Edinburgh Council, EVOC and local organisations to ensure citizens experiencing food insecurity have access to quality fresh food, and that this serves as a gateway to the wider support many will need. 

To compliment this formal consultation process, City of Edinburgh Council have commissioned Diffley Partnership to conduct qualitative research. We aim to bring up to date, in depth understanding of lived experience to the pressing challenge of food poverty.

We are currently speaking to a range of charities engaging in emergency and community food provision on ways to conduct research appropriately, and ethically, with members of the public accessing their services. Third sector provision includes:

  • getting food in a crisis,
  • ongoing access to low-cost food,
  • community gatherings or groups where cooking together or a shared meal are included, and
  • support to learn about food, cooking and budgeting.

Food poverty affects people of all ages from across our city; as Edinburgh Poverty Commission explains, every locality has areas of high poverty. What’s more, around 22% of Edinburgh’s children grow up in poverty, with several wards showing poverty rates at more than 30%. New UK-wide data by The Food Foundation has found that over a third (36.1%) of UK households where at least one member has a disability which means they are ‘limited a lot’ experienced food insecurity in April 2022. This is an especially striking figure compared to the 17% of those who are ‘limited a little’ and 10.6% who are ‘not limited’. Similar levels of Asian/Asian British (24.9%), mixed/multiple ethnicity (23.3%) and Black/African/Caribbean (22.9%) households in the UK were food insecure in April 2022, compared to 15.7% of White households. Therefore, as part of this commission it is essential to involve research participants with a range of backgrounds and experiences, including:

  • specific groups who may face barriers or be reluctant to seek help – including older people, BAME groups and people with disabilities, and
  • families at risk of child poverty – including those with three or more children, lone parents or where there is someone within the family with a disability.

Previous research, including quantitative surveys, highlights the extent of food insecurity across the population. Our upcoming research interviews will enable City of Edinburgh Council and partners to hear from city residents. This Autumn, we look forward to interacting with those in our home city most affected by the issue of food poverty. We are designing effective questions to reveal their challenges, feedback, suggestions, and aspirations. Next, we analyse the interviews and present research findings which can be applied by stakeholders at this crucial juncture. After all, according to our regular survey Understanding Scotland, 92% of Scots believe the cost of living crisis will get worse before it gets better.

As social researchers, we are always motivated by our work feeding into collaborative approaches and inspiring lasting positive change. In this case, voices of Edinburgh residents will bring added insight to help public bodies, charities and other organisations end poverty related hunger in Edinburgh. Achieving this ambition would be glorious.