Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

UK food charities struggle to feed people in need

By Super Admin

Neighbourly, the social network for social good, has published the results of a survey of charities and volunteer organisations across the UK which regularly distribute surplus food to those in need.

Conducted in June 2016, the survey gathers the views of 218 charities and volunteer organisations involved in distributing surplus food to those in need. Collectively, these organizations help to feed over 30,000 people every week, equivalent to 1.56 million meals per year.

The results reveal the striking challenges that confront these charities and provide an insight into the problems of tackling food poverty in the UK today.

The primary uses of food surplus were for emergency food provision (54.6%) or regular hot meal provision (33.5%), illustrating the dependency of large numbers of people on the capabilities and infrastructure supporting food charities, and on donations and support from the commercial sector. Organisations cited peaks in demand arise from benefit delay (71.7%), unexpected financial crisis (70.7%) and cold weather (49.0%). School and Christmas/New Year holidays were also major factors.

Despite being relied upon by 30,000 people every week, the survey revealed many of these organisations lack essential capabilities needed to deliver meals consistently and in times of peak need: 47.8% of organisations need more storage space; 40.7% need transport to collect donations; 36.8% lack refrigeration capabilities; 33.0% need better funding; while 28.7% need a more regular supply of contributions. Notably, lack of volunteers and retention of staff were markedly less of an issue.

In line with increasing awareness of the need to provide healthy balanced diets, the willingness to accept fresh food donations was high at 94.9%. However, probably because of the capacity issues highlighted above, while bread (98.1%) and vegetables (96.2%) were almost universally accepted, the numbers accepting dairy (68.1%), food ‘on the go’ such as sandwiches (63.3%) and meat (59.5%) were much reduced. This may point to the lack of capabilities identified earlier (refrigeration, transport), or simply the greater concerns around the safe handling of these fresh foods. The Neighbourly Food service allows charities to request not only food donations but also related help, such as volunteer drivers to deliver food.

The survey is published to coincide with the start of a review of the ‘Guidance on the application of date labels to food’ which commences today at a cross industry workshop hosted by the Food Standards Agency and Neighbourly with representatives from the Food Foundation, WRAP, food charities and major UK food retailers.

The review, which started this week, will explore whether any improvements in food safety labelling and guidance, or better education around it, might increase the volume of surplus fresh food donated and used by the voluntary sector.

Steve Haines, leader of the Neighbourly Food programme, comments: “This survey gives an accurate snapshot of the heroic efforts of groups across the UK in getting surplus food to those who need it most. Food surplus redistribution is a win-win for society. But we need to address the huge gaps in both capability and capacity. We need to help these charities and community projects get whatever is needed – whether that means funds, volunteer drivers to deliver food, consistent food donation supply, or the right tools and infrastructure – in order to better serve those in need.”

Neighbourly connects charities that need help to businesses that want to make a difference. Since launching in December 2015, Neighbourly Food, the Neighbourly platform’s food redistribution service, has worked with charities and retailers across the UK to help share 231 tonnes of surplus food to help people across the country. The Neighbourly Food service is free to charities and causes.

Organisations using Neighbourly include Marks & Spencer, Starbucks and HEINEKEN, as well as many small and medium-sized businesses active in their local communities. Since launching in July 2014, Neighbourly businesses have pledged some £3,875,865, 11,230 volunteer days and 231 tonnes of food surplus. Visit www.neighbourly.com or follow @nbrly.

To find out more about how Neighbourly is working to distribute surplus food, visit https://www.neighbourly.com/aboutfood. Also, visit Food Standards Agency to find out how you can help tackle food waste.