I met the committee on Tuesday 9 July 2019 to give evidence on FareShare’s experience of the links between inequality, public health and food sustainability. With consideration that FareShare has appeared before the committee, I am pleased to take this opportunity to highlight our key learnings to you.
At 25 years old, FareShare is the UK’s leading food redistribution charity with 21 sites across the nation. We believe that no good to eat food should go to waste and work with the food industry to access their surplus and redistribute that food to the most vulnerable in our society across the UK. We ended last year (March 2019) feeding 150,000 more people each week and providing food for 924,000 beneficiaries than the previous year.
Over 10,963 (last year 9,653) charity and community groups are now supported in their work with food from FareShare and we achieved a 27% increase over last year in the food we redistributed to them with 19,518 tonnes. £33.7m costs were avoided (last year £28.7m) by the charitable sector as a result.
Through the support of FareShare’s partners across the food industry, we were able to redistribute an additional 4,000 tonnes of surplus food last year compared to the previous year, an increase of 27% to 19,518 tonnes. The food we access is only 7% of the surplus food available in the UK supply chain, the rest becomes waste i.e. is sent to landfill, becomes animal feed or is sent to anaerobic digestion, or is sold in the secondary market place.
Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP) report that around 700,000 tonnes of food surplus from manufacturing, retail and hospitality and food service is either being redistributed via charitable and commercial routes (56,000 tonnes in 2018/7) or being diverted to produce animal feed (around 660,000 tonnes in 2015). Both of these are classed as ‘waste prevention’ according to the food material waste hierarchy.
WRAP activity has supported FareShare to increase our frozen food capacity and this grew by 18% last year.
WRAP report there is still at least 250,000 tonnes of good-to-eat food, just like the food we all eat every day, going to waste each year, enough for 650 million meals.
WRAP report an additional 2m tonnes of food is wasted at UK farm level that is good to eat, each year.
This wasted surplus food is enough to provide the equivalent of 5.3 billion meals, or nearly two daily meals for each of 8.4 million people reported to face hunger in the UK each year.
We know the food that we share only addresses a symptom, hunger, and that in many cases that hunger is still there 6-8 hours later. So we focus on getting this food to those amazing frontline charities and community groups that can provide the expert advice, support and love that helps a vulnerable person turn their lives around.
Food creates communities and social cohesion and the benefits go way beyond its nutritional value. It brings people together, combats mental health, fights loneliness, increases self–worth and esteem.
1 in 5 of the charities that we support say they would have to close down if FareShare were unable to supply them with food – the cost of buying the food from retail would simply be too much for them to fund themselves.
The number of charities and community groups that receive and make use of the food FareShare provides grew again in 2018 by 13%, from 9,653 to 10,943. We currently have a waiting list of over 1,000 charities who would like to receive food from FareShare.
In 2018 FareShare successfully lobbied the Government to unlock a £15 million pilot scheme budget from DEFRA to support our core policy ask – to level the playing field for the food industry in terms of equalising the cost to redistribute surplus food to people vs the cost to send to animal feed, anaerobic digestion or to landfill. The pilot is now underway with funds shared across food redistribution charities.
In July 2018 we launched our Wasted Opportunity report. This was a ground breaking piece of research that calculated, in financial terms, the socio-economic benefits of the work that FareShare undertakes to government and the taxpayer. By thinking about our output in terms of nutritional benefits to vulnerable people, resulting in, for example; fewer trips to the GP or hospital, lower welfare costs, better concentration at work and at school, we aimed to show that not only was there a benefit to the charities we serve but to the public purse. We worked with independent experts, NEF Consulting, who developed a model that valued these avoided negative life pathways, and provided an attribution to FareShare, as well as the charities that we support. The findings were that using FareShare food charities and community groups enable the public sector to avoid £61m costs in supporting vulnerable people through public services.
On a personal note I would also like to take this opportunity to share with the Select Committee two areas that I think are important to be scrutinised to ensure the links between inequality, public health and food sustainability are appropriately addressed.
These areas are:-
1) Separating crisis poverty from institutional poverty, and
2) The role of food in a cohesive society.
1. Separating crisis poverty from policy driven institutional poverty
When we talk about poverty in the UK and the policy actions that need to take place to tackle it we tend to focus on crisis poverty and the immediate, short-term activity a government can bring forward over the term of one Parliament. It would be more impactful for this inquiry to look holistically at the societal change needed, together with the instruments of State and of policy changes required to make a lasting and positive impact on inequality, which may be realised over 10 – 20 years.
My experience is that many people turn to frontline charities to address ingrained and multi-tiered needs of which the most visible symptom is hunger. For example, a range of issues including addictions, dependencies, bereavement, family breakdown, loss of employment, mental health or isolation may result in a person becoming homelessness. All of these issues feed each other and can create a permanent need because no one frontline charity can provide the necessary interventions needed or support the whole range of issues faced by someone vulnerable to homelessness.
My experience is also that not all of the vulnerable people FareShare provide food for are at risk of immediate poverty. In many cases, the organisations we work with are community groups valiantly filling the gap in services no longer provided by local authorities. For instance, dementia lunch clubs provide an opportunity for patients to meet and dine together around a communal table. These lunch clubs also provide access to experienced staff who provide information and support to their beneficiaries, which often prevent their visitors falling into a crisis.
In both of these examples, hunger is one of the obvious symptoms a person may experience but because of different reasons. Currently the solutions to solve the problem of hunger in society will be focused on the crisis situations. For example those which arise when a person with no savings, who loses their employment and is plunged into immediate short-term financial crisis, and not on the policy frameworks, for which the government is responsible, which have enabled insecure employment contacts and unaffordable rents.
2) The role of food in a cohesive society
I welcome this opportunity to highlight the role of food beyond providing the body with nutritional value. Food is also about social cohesion and can be the social glue that connects a hungry person with other problems to an organisation who have the ability to create a safety net and stop that person falling into long-term poverty.
Many governments, including that of Canada have identified how improving food literacy – household attitudes, skills and knowledge about food supports healthier choices in diet and nutrition and better food skills, which leads to improved nutrition and health outcomes alongside better society and environmental outcomes. Here in the UK there is lots of academic research supporting the need for food literacy. Robin Dunbar at Oxford University demonstrates the correlation between social eating and social bonding in Breaking Bread: the functions of social eating*. No government policy changes have been centrally driven as a result of any food literacy findings despite the clear social benefits food literacy delivers.
This evidence is not new, the United Nations summits of the 1990s, in particular the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, emphasised the need to balance the economic and social objectives of development. The Social Summit called for policy and institutional changes to promote inclusive development and, in the Copenhagen Declaration, Governments committed “to creating an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment that will enable people to achieve social development”. In the UK this goal has not been achieved but could be through food.
My learning, from 30 years of working with organisations who support vulnerable people, is that if every schoolchild in the nation learned to cook at least five core meals and about the wider value of food, the behavioural changes would significantly tackle obesity. This one action could also reduce the poor diet related costs on society, reduce the impact of climate change, make children and the adults they become able to feed themselves and most importantly underpin a more cohesive society.
I strongly believe that unless there is fundamental shift by policy makers in separating crisis poverty from institutional poverty and desire to create a food literate society that there will be no improvement in the country’s food insecurity. I look forward to your response,
12 September 2019