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

First joint study by The Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network highlights the vital contribution of foodbank volunteers across the UK

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  • First joint study of Trussell Trust and independent foodbanks finds volunteers contribute more than 4 million hours in support to UK foodbanks every year.
  • Ground-breaking research also reveals the monetary value of volunteering in foodbanks.
  • 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.

The Trussell Trust, which operates the largest network of foodbanks in the UK, and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), which advocates on behalf of independent foodbanks and emergency food aid projects, have today released a crucial evaluation of the vital work foodbank volunteers do in their communities. This follows work by IFAN to count the true number of foodbanks in the UK, which has now found that more than 700 independent foodbank centres, beyond The Trussell Trust’s 1235, are providing emergency food and support to people in crisis.

The research, the first of its kind, has found that volunteers do a staggering 2,909,196 hours of unpaid work each year distributing food. Calculating the value of such work using the National Living Wage, currently set at £7.50 an hour for the over 25s, this equates to £21,818,967 a year; or 55,945 hours, with a value of £419,587, each week.

The study also found volunteers are doing a further 1,208,602 hours of additional tasks per year, including stock-taking, fundraising, picking up and delivering food, inputting data, and other work, worth £9,064,516 alone.

Taken together, the 4,117,798 hours of volunteer work each year contributes at least £30,883,482 to the effort to tackle Britain’s hunger crisis.

Samantha Stapley, Head of Operations, for The Trussell Trust, said today:

It’s astonishing to see a value put to the amazing and tireless work done by foodbank volunteers up and down the UK. It’s a testament to the power and generosity of communities. Without them, foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network would not have been able to give nearly 1.2 million emergency food supplies to people in crisis last year. And 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 foodbank volunteers do inspiring work, they cannot replace the welfare safety net. Issues with benefit payments remain the main reason why people need a foodbank parcel, and with issues caused by Universal Credit increasingly reported by foodbanks as a concern, we urge the Government to take steps to make sure people don’t face going hungry in the UK today.’


Professor Jon May, Chair of the Independent Food Aid Network’s Board of Trustees, said today:

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 £12billion in cuts to social security benefits by 2019/20[i], 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[ii]because employers are not paying people enough to live on, volunteers up and down the country are providing a further £30million 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 – and urgently – advocate for fundamental change.



For more information, please contact Abby Jitendra at The Trussell Trust, on  [email protected], 020 3745 5981, or Sabine Goodwin at IFAN, at [email protected].



The research was devised and carried out collaboratively between researchers at The Trussell Trust and IFAN, with counsel from academics at Queen Mary University of London. A randomised sample of 300 Trussell Trust and independent foodbank centres was created and weighted according to the total number of Trussell Trust and independent foodbank centres, to create a representative sample for survey. Sample centres were asked 3 short questions about: the average number of volunteers per session; their hours of distribution, including set-up and packing-away time; and any additional volunteer hours spent doing ‘behind the scenes’ work (liaising with donors, picking up and sorting food, delivering food parcels, fund raising, and paperwork). The monetary value of this volunteer work was calculated by multiplying the number of volunteer hours by the National Living Wage.

Independent Food Aid Network:

  • The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) is a network of independent, grassroots emergency food aid providers including foodbanks and a range other food aid projects; for example, community kitchens, drop-in meal programmes, pay as you feel cafes, social supermarkets, and holiday hunger programmes.
  • IFAN has identified more than 700 independent foodbanks operating across the UK.
  • Independent foodbanks operate in a range of ways, with some working with a referral and some with ‘open access’ systems; some offering pre-packaged food parcels, and others a choice of food. The number of times a person may use an independent foodbank also varies. Many independent foodbanks offer other services, and volunteers frequently ‘sign post’ clients to other organisations who can help. Some independent foodbanks also run food delivery schemes.
  • IFAN exists to provide a voice for independent food aid organisations. It has no faith based or political affiliations.
  • IFAN recognises that food poverty is the result of a complex set of structural issues that require Government action.
  • More information about IFAN can be found at foodaidnetwork.org.uk

The Trussell Trust:

  • The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that runs a network of 1235 foodbank centres across the UK.
  • Trussell Trust foodbanks provide three days’-worth of nutritionally balanced food and support to people in crisis in the UK, and many foodbanks offer free additional services, like money advice and budget cookery courses as part of the charity’s ‘More Than Food’ approach, to build resilience and help prevent people needing referral to a foodbank again. Foodbank volunteers are also trained to signpost people to other agencies and services able to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.
  • Everyone who comes to a Trussell Trust foodbank is referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or schools liaison officer. Over 30,000 frontline professionals refer people to Trussell Trust foodbanks, and 50 percent are statutory agencies.
  • Over 90 percent of food given out by Trussell Trust foodbanks is donated by the public. In 2016-17, 11,175 tonnes of food were given to people in crisis.
  • For more on The Trussell Trust visit trusselltrust.org