Mapping the Social Relations Shaping the Everyday Lives of Single Mothers who are Food Insecure in Nova Scotia

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MacAulay, Rita
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Mount Saint Vincent University
In Canada, single mothers are particularly vulnerable to experiencing food insecurity: a situation that exists when there is limited or uncertain ability to access acceptable foods in a socially acceptable way. This study aimed to map out the social relations organizing the food security status of single mothers supported by Income Assistance (IA) in Nova Scotia. This informed recommendations for policy and program changes that would allow food insecurity to be more effectively addressed in Nova Scotia. Institutional Ethnography (IE) was used to guide this research. Data collection consisted of two stages. The first stage involved in-depth face-to-face interviews with seven single mothers on LA who were determined to have experienced food insecurity. The interviews were audio taped and content analysis of the transcripts was conducted with the assistance of NUD*IST QSR N6 software. Results identified that the mothers entered into relations that, together, worked to coordinate their food insecurity. These social relations were organized using Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. Overall, however, the interviews suggested that income was the most basic organizing factor in coordinating the mothers’ food insecurity. The two main sources of the mothers’ income were the IA and Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) programs. The second stage of this study aimed to explicate how these programs organized the mothers’ food insecurity. To accomplish this, three employees of the IA program took part in in-depth face-to-face interviews to determine how the IA and CCTB programs, including their policies, act, and regulations, were involved in this organization. Similarly, these interviews were audio taped and content analysis of the transcripts was conducted with the assistance of NUD*IST QSR N6 software. Key policy documents, namely the Employment Support and Income Assistance policy document, and information pertaining to the IA and CCTB programs provided more context of the organizing role of these programs. The findings of this research suggest that many social relations are organizing and reproducing the food insecurity experienced by the mothers. Gaps, referred to as lines of fault, were also found to exist between the mothers’ everyday experiences and public and organizational polices as well as programs and nutrition education materials and approaches intended to address their needs. Overall, the identified social relations worked together to maintain the mother’s state of food insecurity and the lines of fault that existed. These fault lines were also maintained due to the lack of participation in the policy process of those most affected by food insecurity and because of the short-term strategies the mothers undertook to cope with their food insecurity. These short-term strategies did not increase the mothers’ food security, and may have actually hidden the reality of the mothers’ experiences of food insecurity. These conclusions have serious consequences considering the impact that food insecurity has on the health and well being of those that experience it and the economic toll it can have on society. As such, public policy and programs, nutrition practice, and society as a whole must make immediate change and work to make system level change that will address the root causes of food insecurity. Results supported a call for action to change current neoliberal based social policies so that they are more inclusive of the needs and realities of those individuals that they aim to affect.
Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) , Single Mothers , Income Assistance (lA) , Food Insecurity