Creating consensus on food poverty

On Monday, the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry (APPI) into Hunger in Britain published their report, “Feeding Britain”. This focused media attention once again onto the issue of UK food poverty.

The report is interesting in the context of my recent study topics as it provides a credible basis to the stories that are told about food poverty. It also provides a counter to the dominant frame that the poor are ‘feckless’ or ‘scroungers’ – the report blames benefit delays, low pay, high utility costs and many other outside factors for hunger.

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Chris Mould, Chairman of the Trussell Trust, widely regarded as the leading UK food bank charity, has written a blogpost on the publication. He talks of the narrative of food poverty – making the point that this report, worked on across political divisions, finally confirms that the narrative of UK hunger is real. This report could be an example of mobilising consensus – creating agreement over issues rather than encouraging participation [1].

There have been plenty of examples of storytelling in the media and by campaigning groups around food poverty, which can create consensus on how real the problem is by highlighting individual stories. They also frame subjects as appropriate for sympathy and inspire empathy: “that could be me”:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30323682

http://www.channel4.com/news/why-do-people-use-food-banks

Oxfam GB also use such stories to mobilise action – encouraging people to donate and join their #clearaplate campaign: www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/issues-we-work-on/poverty-in-the-uk.

Back in April, the Daily Mail attempted to reinforce the framing of the poor as ‘scroungers’ in line with the dominant government framing, sending a journalist to a foodbank:

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This story was considered by many to be mean-spirited and following a Twitter backlash was actually credited with increasing donations to the Trussell Trust – so possibly backfired and strengthened belief in the poor as needing support.

The above ‘microplay’, “Britain isn’t Eating“, by the Guardian and the Royal Court is powerful in consensus-building as it shows how the Tory frame falls apart when scrutinised practically. It illustrates through drama the idea that the stories of the poor as deserving of sympathy don’t resonate with Tory MPs – she exclaims in disbelief that there is no gas, for example.

Jack Monroe rose to fame through her budget food blog A Girl Called Jack. In an article about giving evidence for the report, she talks of the expectation of the public: “I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me my poverty wasn’t real enough, or long enough, or whatever their particular factors deem to be poor enough” – not fitting with their ‘schemas’ or expectations of genuinely poor people [2].

@mx_475

We know from research such as the NEF’s report on The Austerity Story that facts are ignored if they don’t fit with the dominant frame. Anecdotes alone may not be trusted, particularly if they don’t fit the dominant framing of an issue – in Jack’s case, perhaps the dominant frame of the poor as ‘undeserving shirkers’ was too strong for these people to accept her as genuine? Or perhaps The Austerity Story is so strong that people feel that it should be painful?

 Resonance = Credibility + Salience [3]

“Feeding Britain” arguably has a high level of credibility as it is within political structures, cross-party, and the result of an inquiry. The messengers are legitimate political figures. Salience with people’s everyday lives can and has been created by storytelling as seen above, but the difference now is the credibility these stories have.

Perhaps now the plight of those in food poverty will gain more resonance in public discourse, leading to greater mobilisation of actors trying to eradicate it.

 


  1. Klandermans, 1984, cited by Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow in Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 26 (2000), p615
  2. Tannen & Wallat, 1993, p60 cited by Benford and Snow, 2000, p614
  3. Benford and Snow, 2000, p620

 

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