School of Geography

Volunteers across the UK giving ‘at least £30 million’ a year in unpaid work to support foodbanks

20 October 2017

First joint study of Trussell Trust and independent foodbanks finds volunteers contribute more than 4 million hours in support to UK foodbanks every year. The ground-breaking research also reveals the monetary value of volunteering which has been estimated at £30 million a year – if the volunteers were paid the national living wage.

Foodbanks rely on the generosity of donors and volunteers © Getty Images

As Universal Credit rolls out, dramatically increasing the number of people needing emergency food aid, foodbank providers say that voluntary organisations cannot replace the welfare state – the Government must step up and take responsibility. More than 700 independent food bank centres are now in operation, as well as the Trussell Trust’s 1,235.

Professor Jon May from the School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Chair of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN)’s Board of Trustees, said: “IFAN supports the efforts of the thousands of foodbanks, and tens of thousands of volunteers, working so hard to help feed their communities.

“But we call on Government to stop relying on foodbanks, and to accept its responsibilities for Britain’s hunger crisis. As citizens we enter into a contract.

“In exchange for our financial contributions, Government is required to ensure sufficient support is available to all, so that no one needs to rely on charity to feed themselves or their families. That contract has been broken.

“Even as Government plan £12 billion in cuts to social security benefits by 2019/20, some of our largest companies continue to avoid paying their fair share in tax.

“We now know that, though we already pay £11 billion a year to subsidise a low-wage economy because employers are not paying people enough to live on, volunteers up and down the country are providing a further £30 million a year in ’free’ labour to ensure that our fellow citizens in low paid work, on zero hour contracts, or relying on a broken benefits system have enough to eat.

“Whilst we must continue to support those in need, we must also advocate for fundamental change.”

Four out of five foodbank users go hungry multiple times a year with some skipping meals for days at a time © Getty Images

Samantha Stapley of the Trussell Trust, said: “It’s astonishing to see a value put to the amazing and tireless work done by food bank volunteers up and down the UK.

"Without this vital community support hundreds of thousands of people would be hungry, and with nowhere to turn.

“But it is equally important to remember that whilst food bank volunteers do inspiring work, they cannot replace the welfare safety net.

“Issues with benefit payments remain the main reason why people need a food bank parcel, and with issues caused by Universal Credit increasingly reported by food banks as a concern, we urge the Government to take steps to make sure people don’t face going hungry.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Reasons for food bank use are complex so it’s misleading to link them to any one issue.

“We continue to spend around £90 billion a year supporting people, including those who are out of work or on a low income.

“Work is the best means of providing people with financial security, and with our welfare reforms people are moving into employment faster and staying there longer than under the old system."

More information: