Maria Mansfield

Maria Mansfield


I bring to my PhD 10 years of academic-related experience from the University of Oxford, where I worked as a Research Assistant with senior academics on various qualitative and quantitative research projects, alongside administrative support for an MSc course.

In 2013 I graduated with a Distinction MSc in Food Policy from City University, where I had become interested in food culture, food poverty and free school meal access.

My dissertation explored the cultural aspects of secondary school dining halls as a way of understanding why free school meal pupils did not claim their free meals. I also contributed to a study on secondary school pupils’ food choices around schools in a London borough.

I continued my studies in 2018 and awarded a 1+3 ESRC White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership award at The University of Leeds. I received a Distinction MA in Social Research (Interdisciplinary) with my dissertation focussed on UK children’s experiences of summer holiday child feeding provision. 

I now continue on the ESRC PhD pathway to explore how structural stigma is attached to free school meal families and how it affects the ability of people in poverty to make active decisions within their lives.

Research interests

My PhD focusses on structural stigma within the free school meal system in England, and I am specifically interested in how this affects the ability of families to be active agents in their own lives. The work is situated amongst austerity and welfare cuts which have hit those in poverty, particularly children, the hardest.

The research looks at how structural conditions and unequal power relations within the free school meal system create and sustain stigma. I then continue to explore how this stigma impacts the ability of a family to manage shame and use agency within their own lives.

The research took place during Covid-19 restrictions and has been viewed through the lens of the temporary policy changes which continued access to free school meals whilst children were not attending school, using a voucher scheme. 

My field work consisted of telephone conversations with parents and caregivers using a participatory, co-production research philosophy, to explore how free school meal families experienced the Department for Education voucher scheme. The aim was to gain a deeper understanding of how both parent and child agency was affected, and how structural systems in England stigmatise those in poverty.

 My wider research interests include:

  • Food insecurity
  • Free school meal provision
  • Holiday hunger and holiday food and activity schemes
  • Participatory research
  • Activism 
  • Structural inequality
Professional activities

I am a reviewer for the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.

Relevant sites

Research groups


  • MA Social Research (Interdisciplinary), Distinction – University of Leeds (2019)
  • MSc Food Policy, Distinction – City University, London (2013)
  • Advanced Diploma in Environmental Conservation, Distinction – University of Oxford (2005)
  • BSc Behavioural Science – The University of Northampton (1999)