UK food charities face real challenges in feeding the most vulnerable
by Sangeeta Haindl — Neighbourly, the social network for social good reveals in its latest survey that 218 UK food charities face real challenges in helping to feed society’s most vulnerable: lack of storage, refrigeration, transport and funding are limiting the voluntary sector’s ability to do more for those in need of food. Collectively, these organisations help to feed over 30,000 people every week, equivalent to 1.56 million meals per year, and face major challenges trying to tackle the country’s food poverty.
The report gives a telling snapshot of the sector’s needs, highlighting the lack of comprehensive national data covering the UK’s surplus food redistribution sector and its capacity to meet current demand. It is published to coincide with the start of a review of the Guidance on the application of date labels to food, started this month 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. This review 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.
The primary uses of food surplus were for emergency food provision (54.6 percent) or regular hot meal provision (33.5 percent), 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 unexpected financial crisis (70.7 percent) to cold weather (49.0 percent) including school and Christmas/New Year holidays.
However, in spite of being relied upon by 30,000 people every week, the survey shows many of these organisations lack essential capabilities needed to deliver meals consistently and in peak times; 47.8 percent of organisations need more storage space, while 40.7 percent need transport to collect donations and 36.8 percent lack refrigeration capabilities.
Crucially, 33.0 percent need better funding and 28.7 percent need a more regular supply of contributions. Notably, a lack of volunteers and of retention of staff were markedly less of an issue.
In line with an increasing awareness of the need to provide healthy balanced diets, the willingness to accept fresh food donations was high, at 94.9 percent. 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 percent), food ‘on the go’ such as sandwiches (63.3 percent) and meat (59.5 percent) were much reduced. This may be due to the lack of capabilities identified such as refrigeration, transport or simply the greater concerns around the safe handling of these fresh foods.
Neighbourly’s survey highlights the heroic efforts of groups across the UK in getting surplus food to those who need it most; it’s a win-win for society. However, these charities and community projects need support, whether that means funds, volunteer drivers to deliver food or consistent food and donation supply in safeguarding the diets of society's most vulnerable throughout the year.
Photo Credit: Neighbourly