Food Poverty: research update

A team from University College London (UCL) has been conducting Food Poverty surveys at Brixton Advice Centre (BAC) over the past 7 weeks. Here are some updates from the research team, Edwina, Nurul and Tom

Brixton Volunteering Pic

Edwina Prayogo, one of the UCL research team

In April 2016 we started a piece of research at BAC on diet and health, looking into food poverty. It is such an exciting opportunity to collaborate with an advice centre in one of the boroughs where we are doing our research. We have been coming to the BAC for 7 weeks now and we feel very privileged to be trusted by the Director to speak with their clients. It is such a rare sight to see the waiting room empty! Obviously, this is such a good sign that the centre is meeting the needs of so many local people, and it helps us in recruiting participants

In our survey, we are asking a set of questions to look at factors that could influence someone’s diet and health. To name a few: amount of social support they think they have, level of anxiety and depression, financial hardship and severity of food insecurity (or more known as difficulty and worry of not having enough to eat). Please note, we have not yet analysed our data, so all of our findings at this stage are observational and anecdotal only

We have noticed high levels of anxiety and financial hardship, along with low levels of social support amongst BAC clients. Despite this, very few of the people visiting BAC that we spoke to have been to or even heard of Foodbanks

Having spent seven weeks in the Centre, we appreciate the work it does more than ever. As part of our survey, we begin by asking why the clients are visiting BAC today. We always start with an easy question to allow us to build rapport and trust with our participants. People come for all sorts of reasons, ranging from seeking advice on consumer goods, relationship issues, housing (eg landlords who refuse to obey their duty of care) to the more complex end, such as mothers with young children who are currently homeless. While speaking to them, we can sense their anxiety relating to the problem they are experiencing. We realised our tick box option on reasons for referral may not fully capture the complexity of some cases

One of the first things we noticed about BAC when we started our research was how reassuring Simone, the receptionist was when people came in distressed about their problems. The first point of contact on entering the centre, Simone would find a personable, pragmatic way to explain that the clients’ problem was not that unusual and not insurmountable. Clients then often instantly become more relaxed while waiting to see an advisor for specific advice about their issues. It is not an unusual sight to see people leaving the door with a smile on their face, knowing that they received the advice they needed

Despite any anxiety and worries over their own issues, we feel the clients at BAC have been incredibly helpful and we are extremely grateful that so many have been happy to be able to contribute towards this important piece of research, and have enjoyed doing so while waiting to be called – willing to put their issue to one side for a while and complete our questionnaire

Edwina, who is leading the research, and who is also a volunteer at Brixton Foodbank, commented on the importance of having advisors within Foodbanks:

“One day one of the clients I met at BAC recognised me from my volunteering role at Brixton Foodbank. She approached me and we chatted for a while and I tried hard to remember her then realised the reason I couldn’t immediately place her was because the last time I had seen her, just before Christmas, had been at the Foodbank and she had been in tears, incredibly upset and looking very depressed – she had just found out that her benefits had been ‘sanctioned’ and showed me the letter from DWP, crying her heart out. I felt it was very cruel to have your benefits stopped just before Christmas when the only option left to her had been to go to a Foodbank to survive the season. When I had originally seen her at the Foodbank I had referred her to Nathan, one of the advisers from BAC, who was staffing the regular advice session that BAC holds at the Foodbank. Now here we are months later and she looked a different person – she told me how BAC had helped her to appeal against the decision and her benefits had been reinstated. She had nothing but praise and gratitude for help provided by team at BAC

As a Foodbank volunteer, we rarely have the chance to know whether the clients we meet ultimately have their issues resolved so, to know this person got the help she needed, it really made my day and also highlighted to me the importance of Foodbanks working with local advice centres; these kind of partnerships are really meaningful and an incredibly effective way of supporting people in crisis.”

The team aim to continue their research at BAC until the end of July 2016 and plan to communicate the research in a presentation to be held at Brixton Advice Centre once the results have been analysed. The results will also be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and communicated at major public health conferences to increase awareness of the difficulties people living in food poverty face