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 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, participatory methods, research synthesis, 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’s research interests focus on poverty and inequality, social security, and health, 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, participatory methods, and creative approaches, such as zine making and walking interviews. She is a co-founder of the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice, a group of non-governmental organisations, national networks, grassroots activists, and scholars developing a shared analysis of, and reaction to, the increased institutionalisation and corporatisation of charitable food in 'rich world' countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK.

Her research has received prestigious prizes, including the 2020 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Sociology and Social Policy. She was also winner of the 2017 and 2013 British Academy Peter Townsend Award, and was second place runner-up in the 2017 BSA/BBC Radio 4 2017 Thinking Allowed ethnography award. Findings from her research have featured on BBC Breakfast, BBC News at 6, Channel 4 News, Good Morning Britain, Sky News, Thinking Allowed (BBC Radio 4), The Observer, and Women’s Hour (BBC Radio 4), as well as in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, The Financial Times, and The Independent. She has regular engagement with social security policy at both national and local levels, including organising and speaking at events at the House of Lords, House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government, and contributing to several policy consultations, both orally and written.

Kayleigh is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and has considerable teaching experience of delivering lectures, tutorials, and seminars at both UG and PGT level, covering content including central debates in social policy, especially in relation to poverty, social security, and inequality, and also in research methodologies. She has pastoral and supervisory experience in providing PhD supervision to several students, alongside external examination duties in the UK, Europe, and Australia. She also mentors several early career researchers in the UK and Europe. Finally, she is a trustee and treasurer of the Independent Food Aid Network, as well as contributing to various high-profile Policy Advisory Groups.


Kayleigh has taught across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules, with a focus on poverty and inequality, and in particular charitable food provision and lived experience.

In 2022/23, Kayleigh is working on the following modules:

  • UG Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology Dissertation
  • MA Dissertation

Postgraduate supervision

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


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 was Co-Investigator on the Nuffield Foundation funded Covid Realities research programme (April 2020 – March 2022), which explored how families in poverty with dependent children experienced the pandemic, while also tracking how the social security system responded, using participatory methodologies. 125 parents from across the UK shared their experiences through online diaries, and together developed recommendations for what needs to change in the social security system. Kayleigh led two Work Packages. Firstly, the ‘Covid-19 and low-income families: researching together’ collective, which involved 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 were a collective of 14 projects working with over 4,000 parents and carers across the UK. Secondly, she led a Work Package on support for the wider research and policy community, which involved creating a space for researchers to collectively think through how to ethically and sensitively research in pandemic 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. 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 is examining increasing normalisation and corporatisation of emergency food charity, and how this links to wider welfare state developments. Through ethnographic field visits and learning exchanges, Kayleigh is interested in learning directly from those who are working in innovative and creative ways to address food insecurity, including but going beyond charity. The programme of work also explores what can be learned from building solidarity towards challenging the institutionalisation of charitable food, including how to meaningfully work together with people with direct lived experience of poverty and insecurity.

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


Recent publications


Patrick, R, Power, M, Garthwaite, K, Kaufman, J, Page, G & Pybus, K 2022, A Year Like No Other: Family Life on a Low Income in Covid-19. Policy Press. https://doi.org/10.51952/9781447364719

Garthwaite, K, Patrick, R, Power, M, Tarrant, A & Warnock, R (eds) 2022, Covid-19 Collaborations: Researching poverty and low-income family life during the pandemic. Policy Press. https://doi.org/10.51952/9781447364504


Power, M, Patrick, R & Garthwaite, K 2024, '"I Feel Like I am Part of Something Bigger Than Me”: Methodological Reflections from Longitudinal Online Participatory Research', International Review of Qualitative Research. https://doi.org/10.1177/19408447241260448

Spring, C, Garthwaite, K & Fisher, A 2022, 'Containing Hunger, Contesting Injustice? Exploring the Transnational Growth of Foodbanking- and Counter-responses- Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic', Food ethics, vol. 7, no. 1, 6. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41055-022-00099-y

Garthwaite, K, Patrick, R, Power, M & Warnock, R 2022, 'Research synthesis in times of crisis: setting the agenda for mixed method, collaborative research on poverty in a post-pandemic world', International Journal of Social Research Methodology . https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2022.2113268

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.

Bambra, C, Garthwaite, K & Murphy, AG 2018, 'Geopolitical aspects of health: austerity and health inequalities', Social Determinants of Health: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Social Inequality and Well-being. https://doi.org/10.1332/POLICYPRESS/9781447336846.003.0020

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, 'Rethinking deservingness, choice and gratitude in emergency food provision', SOCIAL POLICY REVIEW 29: ANALYSIS AND DEBATE IN SOCIAL POLICY. https://doi.org/10.1332/POLICYPRESS/9781447336211.003.0005

Garthwaite, K 2017, 'The perfect fit? Being both volunteer and ethnographer in a UK foodbank', Journal of Organizational Ethnography. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-01-2015-0009

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

Commissioned report

Cohen, A, Garthwaite, K, Lohnes, J & Wolpold-Bosien, M 2023, Rights, not Charity: a human rights perspective on corporate food aid. <https://rightsnotcharity.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/ENG-layout-GSA-Rights-Not-Charity-Briefing-Paper-FINAL-1.pdf>

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.