Understanding and addressing food insecurity in Westminster Council: a community-based system dynamics approach

We are pleased to announce an opportunity for a 3-year PhD studentship in Public Health within the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, funded by the London Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (LISS DTP). Applications are invited from individuals who wish to develop a career in academic public health.

Start date:  1 October 2022

Duration and Funding: LISS-DTP ESRC Collaborative Studentship, 3-year PhD

Funding is available to cover the cost of UK home tuition fees plus a stipend of £17,609 per annum.

SupervisorsDr Paraskevi Seferidi (Public Health Policy Evaluation unit, School of Public Health, Imperial College London), Dr Eszter Vamos (Public Health Policy Evaluation unit, School of Public Health, Imperial College London).

Department and Location:

The post holder will be situated in the Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit (PHPE) (Director, Professor Christopher Millett). Our mission is to produce high-quality translational research that will inform public health policy, improve health and wellbeing of populations, and reduce health inequalities. PHPE is in the Department of Primary Care and Public Health (PCPH) (Head, Professor Azeem Majeed) within Imperial School of Public Health. We are highly interdisciplinary and the post holder will also work closely with public health researchers, epidemiologists, statisticians, and clinicians at Imperial College London School of Public Health, and at other leading universities.

Imperial School of Public Health, headed by Professor Deborah Ashby combines world-class research translating science and epidemiology into policy and practice. Together with its research, teaching and evidence-led policy work, the Imperial School of Public Health aims to address the major public health challenges of the 21st century. It achieved joint top rating with Oxford University in the national 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), in the “Public Health, Health Services & Primary Care” Unit of Assessment. This graded 91% of our research as world-leading and internationally excellent. We achieved our Silver Athena SWAN award in 2010 which are given to UK university departments recognising significant achievement.

This PhD programme is a Collaborative CASE studentship delivered in collaboration with Westminster Council.

Research project description:

Food insecurity has been increasing in the UK over the last few years, with a further dramatic rise during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated social and economic crisis. Between August 2020 and January 2021, over 9% of all UK households have experienced food insecurity. At the same time, food bank use has also increased, with the Trussell Trust reporting 2.5 million food parcels distributed to people in need in the UK in 2020/21. However, food bank use is only a temporary solution to a crisis, and investments in social and welfare policy are essential to find effective and longer-term solutions.

Church Street in Westminster is a diverse community in the heart of London, which records the highest levels of deprivation in the area. It also ranks within the lowest quintile of London’s well-being score, which measures health and economic security among others. The pandemic has greatly affected poor communities, and there has been an almost 45% increase in the number of food parcels distributed in Westminster during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lean fiscal environments are likely to be sustained in the coming years, and there is an urgent need for measures to protect vulnerable communities. However, there is no specific action plan in place to tackle the increasing problem of food insecurity in the area.

In this project, the student will work in collaboration with Westminster City Council and engage with local stakeholders in the Church Street area, including individuals at risk of food insecurity, practitioners, service providers, third sector groups, and other community organisations, to understand food insecurity at a local level and recommend strategies to effectively address it. The objectives of this project are:

  1. To co-create a qualitative map of food insecurity drivers with community members.
  2. To develop a so-called ‘system dynamics model’ that quantifies changes in food insecurity and examines their impact on diets.
  3. To co-design strategies that improve food security at a local level and simulate their impact using the system dynamics model.

Stakeholder participation will be conducted using ‘community-based system dynamics’, an approach that enables community participation in model building and has been extensively used to engage stakeholders to identify underlying systems of complex problems. Through stakeholder workshops, a qualitative map of food insecurity drivers will be co-developed. The qualitative map will be transformed into a system dynamics model that would simulate changes in food insecurity at a local level, using local data provided by the council or publicly available national data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, nutrition, and food insecurity. The model will then be used to estimate the impact of strategies that improve food insecurity, co-developed with the local community and stakeholders from Westminster Council, to inform a food insecurity action plan in the area.

See project description here.

Eligibility

Applicants must either be UK nationals or have permanent leave to remain in the UK. Students applying for CASE studentships must meet the ESRC eligibility guidelines in terms of residency status and academic qualifications, specifically core social science research methods training. Please see the LISS-DTP website for further details.

Person description

Essential Criteria

Candidates should hold a first or upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent qualification) and a Master's degree in Public Health, Nutrition, or a relevant field.

Excellent written and verbal communication skills 

Ability to work independently and as part of a multidisciplinary team

Evidence of potential as a career researcher

Highly motivated

Desirable criteria

Experience with community engagement, in a research or professional setting

Experience or demonstrable interest in system dynamics

Relevant previous research experience and evidence to commitment to a research career

We strongly encourage applications from UK applicants from ethnic minority and underrepresented groups in social sciences.

Application process 

General information about eligibility can be found on the LISS DTP webpage for CASE studentships here.

To be considered, all applications must include the following (which should be sent to paraskevi.seferidi14@imperial.ac.uk and sph-pgradmin@ic.ac.uk by 11am on Monday 28 February 2022):

  • A completed ESRC LISS-DTP Collaborative CASE Application form (PDF)
  • A copy of your CV (maximum 2 A4 pages) and a cover letter (maximum 2 A4 pages) indicating your interest in, and suitability for, this research project (see Person Description above) as well as a basic explanation of how you think you might shape the research project
  • Academic transcripts
  • 2 reference letters: these should be sent directly by your referees (this can include 2 academic referees or 1 academic and 1 professional referee) and address your suitability for the post

Interviews

We expect to conduct online interviews in early March, so please include in your cover email any constraints in your time availability or any disabilities that might impact your ability to attend an online interview.

For further information please do not hesitate to contact the academic lead for this project Dr Paraskevi Seferidi (paraskevi.seferidi14@imperial.ac.uk) to discuss details of the project or the postgraduate administrator Anja Gizdavcic (sph-pgradmin@ic.ac.uk) for information about the application process.