Recently I went back to Community Shop in Goldthorpe.
It is Britain’s first social supermarket which is leading the way in helping tackle food poverty and the four million tonnes of surplus food we waste by sending to landfill every year.
It opened as a pilot store in December 2013 and now has 500 members who are on low incomes, in and out of work. It stocks a full range of good, heavily discounted food which members can buy at around a third of the cost elsewhere. But the six-month membership means more than cheap food.
It offers people a way of lifting themselves out of food poverty with free, professional help on things like budgeting, dealing with debt, job search, skills training and cooking classes. The aim is to tackle the root causes of food poverty, not just relieve the pressure.
The Trussell Trust say food banks fed 913,138 people last year, including 37,403 in Yorkshire. More than 20 million meals were given out, a rise of 54% from the year before.
It’s directly due to changes the Government have made to benefits and tax credits, and the rising cost of living food prices have gone up 18 per cent above inflation in the last seven years.
It’s also because people can’t get the hours they want at work and because wages have dropped – by 8% in Barnsley so far since 2010 and 12% in Rotherham – that’s over £3000 a year less in cash terms.
Meanwhile, the food industry is generating enormous amounts of surplus food, estimated to be 4.3 million tonnes in the UK before it even reaches supermarkets. Much of it is dumped when it could be eaten.
All the products in Community Shop are perfectly safe, but they might be surplus to requirements, have damaged packaging or be near the ‘best before’ date. Last year it sold food for more than 50,000 meals to its members.
Community Shop works with some of our biggest retailers and brands like Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Tetley and Heinz. It is run commercially as a not-for-profit concern, linked to the well-established Company Shop with its national HQ at Tankersley, and backed by Barnsley Council, who helped provide the premises.
It’s a simple, sustainable solution. It matches those experiencing food poverty with surpluses and stops edible food going to landfill. Community Shop gave evidence to a national inquiry on food poverty led by my colleague Frank Field MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Food Poverty.
Frank wanted to see for himself how the shop works and so recently we were in Goldthorpe together talking with staff (left) and members. The APPG inquiry is due to report soon and will recommend support for social supermarkets around the country. Then I want to see what has been done first in the Dearne go nationwide.