Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite

Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite

Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Associate Professor
Deputy Director of Research (Impact), School of Social Policy
Birmingham Fellow

Contact details

School of Social Policy
Muirhead Tower
B15 2TT

Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite is an Associate Professor and Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology. She is also the Deputy Director of Research (Impact), School of Social Policy.

Kayleigh’s research interests focus on poverty and inequality, social security, and stigma, specifically investigating charitable food provision and food insecurity. Her work is strongly interdisciplinary, working between social policy, sociology, and human geography, and employs a wide variety of mostly qualitative methodologies, including ethnography, research synthesis, participatory methods, and creative approaches such as zine making and walking interviews.


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (Distinction), Higher Education Futures Institute, University of Birmingham (2020)
  • PhD Human Geography, Durham University (2012)
  • MA Social Research Methods (Social Policy), Durham University (2009)
  • BA Sociology, Durham University (2007)


Kayleigh has been working in academia since 2008 when she was a Research Assistant at Teesside University, working with Professor Tracy Shildrick, Professor Rob MacDonald, and Professor Colin Webster. She is co-author of the book based on the findings of the project, ‘Poverty and insecurity: Life in 'low-pay, no-pay' Britain’ (Policy Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 British Academy Peter Townsend Prize.

Prior to working at the University of Birmingham, Kayleigh was based in the Department of Geography at Durham University (2009-2017). She led a Work Package on ethnography of health inequalities in contrasting areas of Stockton-on-Tees as part of the ‘Local Health Inequalities in an Age of Austerity project’ funded by the Leverhulme Trust (PI Professor Clare Bambra, Newcastle University). As part of this project, she conducted an ethnographic study of the lived experiences of foodbank use in a Trussell Trust foodbank. Her book based on this work, ‘Hunger Pains: life inside foodbank Britain’ (2016, Policy Press), was winner of the 2017 British Academy Peter Townsend Prize.

Kayleigh is currently Co-Investigator on the Nuffield Foundation funded Covid Realities research programme (April 2020 – December 2021), exploring how families in poverty with dependent children are experiencing the pandemic, while also tracking how the social security system responds. Kayleigh is leading on two Work Packages. Firstly, the ‘Covid-19 and low-income families: researching together’ collective, which involves working closely with a range of research teams across the UK working with families in poverty, to support the generation of data specifically on Covid-19, and the synthesising and dissemination of relevant findings to policy makers and other key audiences. Together, they are a collective of 14 projects working with over 4,000 parents and carers across the UK. Secondly, she leads a Work Package on support for the wider research and policy community, which has involved creating a space for researchers to collectively think through how to ethically and sensitively research in these new times through a webinar and blog series.

Building on her previous ethnographic work on foodbanks, Kayleigh is interested in what we can learn from North America and Canada in terms of their history of charitable food provision, and the growing corporatisation and institutionalisation of charitable aid we are witnessing in the UK context. In 2019, she completed a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award exploring this. The award led to the formation of an international networking alliance, the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health, and Social Justice, which is a collaboration between the UK and international scholars, as well as non-governmental organisations, grassroots campaigners, and people with lived experience of food poverty from the UK, US and Canada.

In October 2020, Kayleigh was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize to develop a major new programme of work on the institutionalisation and corporate capture of food charity in the US, Canada, and the UK – and beyond. Beginning in November 2021, the work will examine the increasing normalisation and corporatisation of emergency food charity, and how this links to welfare state developments. It will also explore what can be learned from building solidarity towards challenging the institutionalisation of charitable food.


Kayleigh teaches across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules, with a focus on poverty and inequality, and in particular charitable food provision and lived experience. She currently convenes the following modules:

  • Poverty, Wealth and Inequality (MA)

Postgraduate supervision

  • Helen Nethaway, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology, University of Birmingham

Other activities

  • Trustee and Treasurer of Independent Food Aid Network
  • Editorial board member of Journal of Poverty and Social Justice
  • Member of Social Policy Association
  • Member of Oxfam UK Poverty Policy Advisory Group
  • Member of Welfare at a (Social) Distance Advisory Board (PI Lisa Scullion)
  • Member of Food Vulnerability during COVID-19 (PI Hannah Lambie-Mumford)


Recent publications


Garthwaite, K 2016, Hunger Pains: Life inside foodbank Britain. Bristol, Policy Press.


Price, C, Barons, M, Garthwaite, K & Jolly, A 2020, '‘The do-gooders and scroungers’: examining narratives of foodbank use in online local press coverage in the West Midlands, UK', Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, vol. 28, no. 3.

Bruck, A & Garthwaite, K 2020, '“We’ll go back to a system you really do not like!”: Organizational norms and structural violence in a UK foodbank', Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 10, no. 2.

Jensen, T, Allen, K, de Benedictis, S, Garthwaite, K & Patrick, R 2019, 'Welfare imaginaries at the interregnum', Soundings: Journal of Politics and Culture, vol. 72.

Garthwaite, K & Bambra, C 2018, '‘It's like being in Tattooville’: An ethnographic study of territorial stigma and health in a post-industrial town in the North East of England', Health & Place, vol. 54, pp. 229-235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2018.10.005

Geiger, BB, Garthwaite, K, Warren, J & Bambra, C 2017, 'Assessing work disability for social security benefits: international models for the direct assessment of work capacity', Disability and Rehabilitation. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2017.1366556

Garthwaite, K 2017, '‘I feel I'm giving something back to society’: constructing the ‘active citizen’ and responsibilising foodbank use', Social Policy and Society, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 283-292. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746416000543

Garthwaite, K & Bambra, C 2017, '“How the other half live”: Lay perspectives on health inequalities in an age of austerity', Social Science & Medicine, vol. 187, pp. 268-275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.05.021

Garthwaite, K, Smith, K, Bambra, C & Pearce, J 2016, 'Desperately seeking reductions in health inequalities: perspectives of UK researchers on past, present and future directions in health inequalities research', Sociology of Health and Illness, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 459-478. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12374

Garthwaite, K 2016, 'Stigma, shame and 'people like us': an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK', Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 277-289. https://doi.org/10.1332/175982716X14721954314922

Garthwaite, K 2015, 'Becoming incapacitated? Long-term sickness benefit recipients and the construction of stigma and identity narratives', Sociology of Health and Illness, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12168

Garthwaite, K, Collins, P & Bambra, C 2015, 'Food for thought: An ethnographic study of negotiating ill health and food insecurity in a UK foodbank', Social Science and Medicine, vol. 132, pp. 38-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.03.019

Garthwaite, K 2015, '‘Keeping meself to meself’ - how social networks can influence narratives of stigma and identity for long-term sickness benefits recipients', Social Policy and Administration, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 199–212. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12119

Review article

Cairns, J, Warren, J, Garthwaite, K, Greig, G & Bambra, C 2015, 'Go slow: an umbrella review of the effects of 20 mph zones and limits on health and health inequalities', Journal of Public Health, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 515-520. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdu067

Warren, J, Garthwaite, K & Bambra, C 2015, 'Help for heroes? Evaluating a case management programme for ex-service personnel in the United Kingdom', Perspectives in Public Health, vol. 135, no. 1, pp. 37-42. https://doi.org/10.1177/1757913914555747

View all publications in research portal


Kayleigh’s research interests focus on poverty and inequality, charitable food provision, foodbanks and austerity, with a particular focus on stigma.

Policy experience

Kayleigh has contributed written and oral evidence to a range of different government bodies, including a Select Committee into Benefit Sanctions, Select Committee on Benefit Delivery, and the APPG on Health in All Policies.