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Imagining How Household Income Impacts Food Insecurity

In an activity comparing two houses, children thought about where families of different incomes might get food from, what food is in the cupboards and what mealtimes are like. Children attributed restaurants, cookery books, appliances, eating together, and growing your own food to the wealthier house.

“Maybe [they buy food from] a Sainsbury’s, or something like that.”

“They might go to Costa for coffee and sweet shops.”

“They might grow a lot of their food.”

“When they first got the house they might have spent quite a bit of money to build a special room like a greenhouse but inside.”

“They drive” [to get their food].

[Meal times have] “everything you need and some treats.”

“They watch TV programmes about food, for example MasterChef, they learn how to make foods.”

“They go to places to learn about making food, buy cookery books.”

“Maybe they have a six-foot-long table with food on it… And they have three candles.”

“They have a living room and so many tables, lots of food… and they talk about things.”

“The first one might have a thing where they press a button and it goes around. And the other one might have just a normal one – a wooden spoon.”

“Their friends might come over.”

“They have family time.”

“They have beef! The first house has beef. Because they have more money than the other house and they have a big fridge to put it in.”

They attributed eating little and with less variety, relying on family and friends, and traveling long distances to the shops to the less wealthy house:

[The family having a tough time with money] “wouldn’t want to spend tons of money on stuff they don’t necessarily need. In Sainsbury’s and Tesco they normally put up the price a little bit. You get bananas for like 50p but in a fruit shop it might be 10p. So they would either go to the fruit shop or they might go to the food bank.”

“Maybe a shop that doesn’t cost any money. We could make it up, because all shops costs money. We could make a free shop.”

“Maybe their Granny and Grandpa live a long way away. They have to walk a long way every day because they don’t have a care, but they go to their Granny’s for food and drink because their Granny has the right amount.”

“They have to go there on foot.”

“They might have to go a long way… they may be in the Highlands.”

“Maybe one person has food one day, and the other person has food the other day.”

“I think they might have dinner together, they might not afford a big table.”

“I don’t think they have a kitchen table… Maybe they eat it in their Mum and Dad’s room.”

“They’d just sit on the couch with the telly on.”

“This house might not have a cooker.”

“I don’t think they have breakfast… because maybe the Mum and Dad don’t want to waste their money just on the breakfast.”

“Maybe they just need dinner and lunch instead of supper and breakfast.”

“This one would have less in it than the other one.”

“Milk, and that’s it.”

“They can’t get any food, well, they can get bread?”

Children were clear that there were social and emotional consequences to food security for both parents and children. Children were asked to respond to a scenario in which a parent has lost their job and as a consequence hasn’t been buying the same, or same amount of, food.

They imagined how parents might feel:

They feel worried about their children.”

“They’re worried because if there’s not enough food their bones will show and they will die!”

“Frustrated because they don’t have enough money to buy proper food.”

“Angry that they lost their jobs and angry at themselves.”

“They really want their children to grow big and strong so they can get jobs and they will have money instead of them being like they are right now.”

“Stressed out.”

“They would feel hopeless, like they might starve and die, and then their children will be very sad.”

And how the children might feel:

“They feel upset that their parents are stressed so they feel stressed.”

“A bit worried, because they don’t know what’s going to happen and their parents are a bit sad.”

“That maybe they can do something!”

“Scared, because they won’t have a lot of food and they’ll starve.”

“Maybe they’d feel confused.”

“They’d be sad.”

“They’ll feel poor.”

The children thought about solutions to food insecurity and whose responsibility it is to make sure children have the food they need. They had a strong belief that eating healthy is often a matter of personal choice and responsibility, with some responsibility allocated to parents, family members and schools who provide children with food options in many circumstances.

“I think yourself is in charge of most that you eat. I know at home you sometimes don’t choose what you’re having but I think if you have lots of unhealthy things and you make the choice of saying can I have this tonight? Can I have soup? Tomato soup or something.”

“Teachers have to make sure you’re healthy, let’s say the supervisor is outside and you’re having popcorn, a chocolate bar and some Maltesers, then they would say maybe you should keep some of that for after school.”


“Grannies and Grandads.”

“The President of America.”



“People at school.”

“Big sisters and big brothers.”

“I’d probably say yourself because if you have a choice.”

Children also understood that there are multiple factors involved in determining the availability and accessibility of food when asked about responsibility for eating where there are financial constraints. Not all children felt that food banks were a fair solution. Many talked about solutions from within family units, which focused heavily on using resources widely and efficiently, but also included discussion around the security and adequacy of incomes:

“They’ll have to budget.”

“They should spend it on food and cheap, cheap clothes from a charity shop.”

“They could get some help from gran.”

“What my Mum does is that she buys all the stuff a few days before, she has to remember what we’ll have for dinner, so she’ll buy all the stuff and has it in the fridge and just makes it.”

“They can both get a new job, a job that they’re really good at, a job that they graduated in.”

Most talked about solutions from the community or specific professionals who could provide money, food or support:

“They might just go to their next door neighbours and ask them for some money.”

“Maybe they could eat at a friend’s house.”

“Maybe the teacher, maybe at lunch time can give them some extra food to take home.”

“Maybe they can just give them some money so that they can buy some extra food.”

“They can phone the lawyer, if they have a lawyer.”

“They can wait for Santa?”

Most children understood that certain adults had a role of ensuring that children and families were being supported. They were clear that politicians should make sure all children should have enough food:

“They usually help people, like children who need food.”

“Because they should.”

“Because it’s important.”

“Because children can get ill and politicians should care.”

“Because they care about children.”

“They’re meant to look after us, they shouldn’t just be sitting there not caring and eating all the food.”

And thought about what action politicians should take:

“Some new rules so people won’t just be that way, poor and homeless, and so we don’t just ignore them.”

“Make sure everyone has enough food and water.”

“Maybe in the shops they should make fruit and veg cheaper.”

“Or they can make sweets higher so that nobody can buy them.”

“If you can make the veggies and the good things you’re meant to eat lower, then people can know that they can buy them.”

“They could make a new law that you have to eat fruit, they could say that everybody needs to have 5 a day. Maybe can say you have to.”

“We can make some rules for the parents who don’t really care about fruit… Maybe they could say, you’re banned from the sweets and unhealthy things for like a month or so and that would get them into eating fruit and when this is over, they can’t eat the sweets because they’re too used to the fruit.”

Some children suggested actions related to redistributing money:

“Every single tax raised in one week should be donated to everyone in Scotland that’s poor.”

“You could find a really, really, really rich person… with a big of money, you could get some money from them because they would still have a lot of money and give it to the poor.

Though not all children agreed on how far these measures should go:

“I think you should try and persuade them but you don’t force them because it’s their money and they’ve worked hard. Even if they won the lottery, it’s their money and it’s just chance, but you shouldn’t say you have to give it to the poor because it’s their money.”

“I think we should try and encourage people to give money to other people, if people are poor and they don’t have enough to get what they need.”

Children often made suggestions of rights-based actions. When asked whether every child has the right to food, they replied:

“People don’t agree. They actually do have a right but people don’t agree to have the right so they don’t respect their rights.”

“I agree because if you are a doctor, you are meant to do everything you can to save someone, whether you’re helping as a robber, someone who’s a terrorist… You’re always meant to do the same thing. And people need to live.”

They also discussed ways of making sure actions are working.

“You could say, ‘if we help you, you have to promise to write to us’ and say, like if you have kids, yeah our kids are safer and more healthy, and they’ve eaten more and more happy, and they’ve got more foods.”

“They never run out of food, they always have loads and loads and loads of food. They always organise it before, planning each meal out. For breakfast, they organise it the night before… they always have everything planned out.”

Children were aware that issues around food insecurity affected all children, or ‘normal people’ but they also highlighted particular groups of children who should be involved:

“People who don’t have enough money.”

“The ones who are born homeless.”

“Children who don’t get enough vegetables and healthy food.”

“The younger children, because the older children have had enough time being alive.”

“…if a kid’s disabled, not think ‘oh, they’re disabled, they’re not as important’. They should treat everyone as an equal.”

And had lots of ideas for practical ways of including children in dialogue around food insecurity:

“…listen to everything that every child says to her and take it all in and write it down and do all she can.”

“…listen to people’s ideas and see if they can get all of them because there might be all different ideas and maybe they could use them all and combine them into one big idea.”

“…speak to them nicely because they’re having a very hard time without any food.”

“…look at them when you’re talking to them.”

“…[not] stamp your feet to loud when you’re walking.”

“…stay focused.”