Heat or Eat: food and austerity

This pilot project develops from and speaks to the scoping work which was funded under Stage 1 of the Digital Economies Network ‘Food Bank’ project. In line with the recommendations in Dowler and Lambie-Mumford (2014) this project looks beyond food aid as a lens to explore the issue of food poverty and instead investigates the lived experience of household budgeting within the context of poverty

Heat or Eat: food and austerity in Rural England explores the theme of food and austerity through the lens of one of the most high profile, yet under-evidenced, phenomena in the current era of austerity: the decision to ‘heat or eat’. There is increased policy discussion about households having to make stark choices between ‘heating and eating’ and the driver of this phenomena is perceived to be the relative flexibility of food and fuel costs compared to other household expenses. However, the evidence base that exists is largely made up of single household case studies and small scale surveys conducted by NGOs, and is rarely the central focus of the research in which it appears. Moreover, existing evidence pays little or no attention to spatial disparities within such debates, largely ignoring the very different, and often more challenging circumstances faced by the rural poor, including disparate and more stretched public services, a limited and energy inefficient housing stock, and restricted access to cheaper forms of fuel such as mains gas. With support from National Energy Action and the Trussell Trust foodbank Network this project will scrutinise the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma in a rural context, investigating the legitimacy and complexity of such claims, and critically assessing existing and potential policy responses.

Lambie-Mumford, Context and Rationale




Key Participants

Hannah Lambie-Mumford, PI: Hannah will lead the project alongside Carolyn and oversee the day to day management, including financial management and management of the research assistant. She will play an active research role throughout the project, inputting into each phase and bringing particular expertise in the field of food poverty and food bank research in the UK. From September Hannah took up a postdoctoral position at the University of Sheffield. In June 2014 Hannah was awarded first prize for Outstanding Early Career Impact by the Economic and Social Research Council at their Celebrating Impact ceremony. Hannah has previously worked as a researcher at the Universities of Warwick and Coventry and has undertaken several pieces of funded research into food aid and food banks, including for the previous scoping round for CCN+ (Dowler and Lambie-Mumford 2014) and for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lambie-Mumford et al 2014). Hannah has been at the forefront of the emerging evidence base on the growth of food charity in the UK with her studies including her forthcoming ESRC funded PhD on the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, FareShare and other independent initiatives.

Carolyn Snell, Co-I: Carolyn will lead the project alongside Hannah and oversee the day to day management. She will play an active research role throughout, inputting into each phase and will bring particular expertise in the field of fuel poverty research. Carolyn Snell is a Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of York specialising in fuel poverty, sustainable development and qualitative research methods. Her most recent funded research, funded by eaga charitable trust, investigated the relationship between fuel poverty, disability and welfare reforms. Carolyn was recently invited by the National Institute for Care and Excellence to give an expert testimony on fuel poverty and welfare reform and, alongside academic presentations, has presented her work on fuel poverty at numerous policy forums in York, Harrogate and London. She has published widely in the field of fuel poverty policy (see Snell and Thomson 2013, Thomson and Snell 2012, NEA 2013, Snell et al 2014 and 2013)). Carolyn has seven years’ experience as a Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator and Project Manager, having led numerous projects within the Department of Social Policy since 2007.

Elizabeth Dowler:

Elizabeth will provide expert input and advice throughout the project, feeding in at key points in the design, analysis and writing up stages. Elizabeth is Professor of Food and Social Policy at the University of Warwick and is one of the UK’s leading academic researchers on issues of poverty and food security as is also a registered public health nutritionist. Her work on these issues has looked at the drivers of food poverty and the measures which have been promoted and implemented at local levels to address it (from the grassroots, local authority/health sector and government). Liz has experience of interviewing and engaging with householders to enable them to tell their stories, particularly in how they manage a precarious food budget. Liz is a long-standing honorary member and elected Director/Trustee of the Food Ethics Council, an independent research and advocacy group; she was a member of their Food Justice Inquiry in 2010.