NEWS16 March 2022

Put hard-to-reach participants’ needs ‘front and centre’

Charities Impact 2022 News Trends UK

UK – Research with hard-to-reach groups, such as homeless people or migrants, should put those people’s needs “front and centre”, the Market Research Society’s (MRS’s) Impact 2022 conference has heard.


A conference session examined the Destitution in the UK longitudinal study carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Kantar Public and Heriot-Watt University’s Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-Sphere) in 2015, 2017 and 2019, with a further tranche of the research due to be completed later this year.

The project focused on examining some of the experiences and issues faced by people living in extreme deprivation and destitution in the UK, and worked with more than 120 voluntary sector organisations across 18 areas of the country to get access to vulnerable groups.

Alex Thornton, senior director at Kantar Public, said that it is important to include the voices of those at risk of deprivation in the research design, and adapt to participants’ lives, such as interviewing in hostels and using language that was common among the target audience.

“This is all about putting the needs of people at risk of deprivation front and centre in the design of the research,” Thornton said. “We translated the survey into 23 languages to make sure it met the needs of those we were trying to reach.”

He added that “the approach needed to be designed in a way that would work in a variety of different settings and locations”, such as foodbanks, hostels and soup kitchens, and that there was the potential to take part over the phone or remotely.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, professor of housing and social policy at Heriot-Watt University and director at I-Sphere, said that the research uncovered a lot of information about the characteristics of those people in the UK who faced destitution.

Many participants in the study were in debt over rent, council tax arrears, energy bills or repayable advances on benefits, Fitzpatrick added.

“The debts we were talking about are associated with buying essentials rather than consumer spending of any type,” she said.

“Over successive waves of the study we found that debt-related deductions from benefits very often plunged people from a situation of poverty but just about keeping their heads above water to one of absolute destitution.”

Dr Emma Wincup, research manager (qualitative) at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that the research gained significant media interest when it was released in December 2020 and is still gaining traction.

“The study captured the attention of journalists,” Wincup said. “They really engaged with it, coming back to us and asking detailed questions about the research design and methodology.”