Get Talking Hardship: a participatory action research project exploring the realities of hardship

“Hardship is when you have to be all excited with your kids about going round for Grandma’s for tea but really it’s because you can’t afford to feed them.”

Stoke-on-Trent is the 14th most deprived city in England in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation with many areas of the city among the top 10% most deprived in the country (City of Stoke on Trent, 2018) and 33% of children are considered as living in poverty (Child Poverty Action Group, 2018).  Over a third of its population over over-indebted (Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire, 2019). 

Between January and July 2019, Staffordshire University were asked to conduct research into hardship and poverty in the city on behalf of the Hardship Commission, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. In order to reach people who are often overlooked in research, we adopted a participatory action research approach, training and supporting 43 community researchers to take an active role in the research process, interviewing participants, analysing findings and making recommendations for action.

The Get Talking Hardship Report outlines the causes and effects of hardship and poverty and makes recommendations for action. We found the causes of poverty include both push and pull factors. Push factors include insecure incomes and zero hours contracts, increased cost of living and threat of redundancy.  The welfare system was also problematic for many, especially the need for access to technology to claim Universal Credit, delays in payments and benefit cuts and freezes. Housing and local spending decisions were also identified as contributing to hardship and poverty. Stereotyping and stigma were also seen as contributing to hardship, as well being an impact of hardship and poverty.  

Pull factors included ill health, both physical and mental, and unexpected household problems such as death of a partner, divorce or even unexpected cost of repairs or replacement of household goods. 

The effects of hardship and poverty on individuals included having to make difficult choices, getting into debt and difficulty accessing services.  Within communities hardship and poverty have reduced the amount of group activities available which has had a negative impact on ‘community spirit’ in some areas.  Equally, poor physical health and mental ill health are identified as an effect of hardship and poverty, demonstrating that health problems can be a cause and effect of hardship.  

The Get Talking Hardship Report identifies actions for change.  There are no simple solutions.  However, the report identifies that collaborative working across agencies and a culture change to account for the multi-factorial and multi-impact nature of hardship are needed.  The report includes recommendations which include the continued need to work with people experiencing hardship and poverty to better understand and address the issue.  

The value of this research lies in the participatory approach adopted.  Working with a team of community researchers has been invaluable in reaching people in hardship and poverty and challenging assumptions often made about people in hardship and poverty. The Hardship Commission have committed to working with the community researcher team to embed their learning into their priorities over the next 5 years. 

The full report can be found here: Get Talking Hardship Report 

To find out more about this research and the Get Talking approach to participatory action research please email Nic on 



Child Poverty Action Group (2018). Poverty in Your Area. Retrieved from:

City of Stoke on Trent (2015). Areas of Deprivation Stoke on Trent Joint Strategic Needs Assessment. Retrieved from:

Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire (2019) Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire Business Development Plan 2019 – 2025. 

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