Food Poverty nd Charity in the UK: Food Banks, the Food Industry and the State

Caplan, Pat. 2020. Food Poverty nd Charity in the UK: Food Banks, the Food Industry and the State. Working Paper. Goldsmiths, University of London, London. [Report]

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Abstract or Description

By the time I started my research on food poverty in the UK in 2014, it was already widespread and has continued to grow inexorably since that time, with a quantum leap after the advent of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. One response has been the growth in food aid organisations, particularly food banks within which there are several categories of players: donors, volunteers and clients.

Food banks provide food parcels to clients, often on production of a voucher obtained from a professional agency. Most of the food is ambient – tins, packages, bottles; only recently have some food banks been able to supply any fresh food like fruit and vegetables. Food banks are primarily run by volunteers who collect donated food from supermarkets and elsewhere, sort it by type and date, store it and make up parcels for clients.

More recently, donors have also included the food industry which donates ‘surplus’ food to food aid charities. Much of this passes through food collection charities such as Fareshare. This increasing participation of the food industry has enabled more fresh food to be available to food banks while also enabling food companies to claim that they are fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities and thereby improve their ‘brand’.

In my research I interviewed many volunteers and even participated in some of their meetings and tasks. Many expressed their dismay about food poverty but few were willing to become activists and seek to challenge the situation from which it arose.

Clients for the most part have an ambivalent attitude to food charities. On the one hand, the food parcels they receive help to alleviate some of their needs, but this comes with a heavy price: lack of choice and a feeling of stigma which is often internalised. Only a minority of food banks encourages clients to become volunteers, thereby breaking down the divide between givers and receivers.

Why is this happening?

• Low wages and precarious employment
• Low benefits, plus long waiting times to access Universal Credit
• Cuts in benefits

It can be summed up as low income, insufficient to meet all needs.

The fragility of the charitable response to food poverty has been exposed by the pandemic which has seen unprecedented numbers seeking help.

This problem cannot be solved by food banks – it is the result of historically-specific government policies such as austerity and therefore needs significant structural change to ensure that all citizens have sufficient income to feed themselves and their families.

Item Type:

Report (Working Paper)


Food Poverty, food banks, surplus food, government policy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR)


May 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

30 Mar 2022 08:24

Last Modified:

30 Mar 2022 08:25


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