A survey of UK food charities has found they struggle to meet demand during peak times and don't have the resources to distribute fresh produce
Food charities are struggling to deal with fresh food and meet demand for emergency food provision and hot meals in peak times, according to new research.
A major new survey of UK food charities discovered they struggle with a lack of storage space, refrigeration and transport. A third also say they need better funding and more than a quarter need a more regular supply of goods.
The survey of 281 UK food charities was carried out by Neighbourly, a social network focusing on social good. Collectively, the organisations it surveyed help to feed over 30,000 people a week, equivalent to 1.56 million meals a year.
While 95% of organisations, which included housing associations, volunteer-led community groups and foodbanks, said they were willing to accept fresh food, far more could cope with donations of bread and vegetables than dairy, sandwiches and meat.
More than half said their primary use of food is for emergency food provision and a third provide regular hot meals.
Benefit delays, unexpected financial problems, cold weather and school holidays were cited as the main reasons for peaks in demand. A total of 72% said benefit delays were the biggest reason their clients require free food.
Just under half of organisations (48%) need more storage space, while 41% need transport to collect donations and 37% lack refrigeration capabilities.
Notably, lack of volunteers and retention of staff were less of an issue.
We need to help charities and community projects get whatever is needed – whether that is funds, volunteer drivers to deliver food, consistent food donation supplies, or the right tools and infrastructure - Steve Haines
Steve Haines, leader of the Neighbourly Food programme, said: “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 which need help to businesses that want to make a difference. Since it launched in December 2015, Neighbourly Food 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.
The survey was carried out to coincide with the start of a review of the guidance on the application of date labels to food, which is being hosted by the Food Standards Agency and Neighbourly and includes representatives from the Food Foundation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), and other food charities.
Robin Hinks, research and policy officer at the Food Foundation, said: “This new data provides an illuminating snapshot of the vital work of charities and the voluntary sector in tackling food poverty in the UK. However, it also demonstrates that the third sector lacks the capacity to meet the nutritional needs of society's most vulnerable, particularly during crisis periods such as school holidays and cold weather events.
"To ensure no one is left behind and reduce demand for emergency food provision, government needs to robustly and routinely assess the scale of food poverty in UK, consider the nutritional impact of its policies, and take a leadership role in safeguarding the diets of society's most vulnerable throughout the year.”
Steve Wearne, director of policy at the Food Standards Agency, said: “The FSA supports all efforts to make sure as much food surplus as possible is safely redistributed. That's why today we are starting the process, working with Defra and WRAP, of reviewing the date marking guidance, the aim of which is to make the guidance clearer for organisations wanting to redistribute surplus food.
“As part of our contribution to the waste reduction agenda we also launched an information campaign this week to help consumers reduce waste through making more effective use of their freezers.”