Half of Britain's 1,000 food banks should be given Government help to convert into community supermarkets, allowing them to switch from offering only emergency help to giving year-round assistance to people in "chronic food poverty", according to a new report.
The report by think-tank Demos urged the Government to use funds raised from the existing landfill tax on retailers' food waste to support affordable food schemes.
And it called for the abolition of legislation which prevents excess food being donated - such as food safety rules which place legal liability on potential donors.
The report - entitled The British Aisles - challenged the widely-held belief that lower-income households need to change their behaviour and buy more healthy food, finding that the 11% of the weekly shop spent on fruit and vegetables by the poorest fifth of families was broadly similar to the 13% national average and the 14% spent by the richest.
Food banks typically provide an emergency three-day food package to individuals referred by doctors or social workers, and the Demos report found that many are unable to offer more than nine days' worth of food a year, while more than half of their users need help all year round.
Emergency help was "invaluable for those in crisis, but unsuitable for the 60% of food bank users experiencing chronic food poverty all year round", said the report.
It called for the establishment of a Government-backed conversion fund to provide grants to food banks to enable them to transform into community supermarkets, while ensuring at least the same number of people on low incomes are able to access affordable food.
The community supermarket model allows them to sell groceries at below market rates, and to offer discounts on food supplies to reward people doing volunteer shifts in the store.
The report also urged the Government to appoint a national food security champion, responsible for fostering research into food poverty in the UK.
The report's author, Demos researcher Ally Paget, said: "The UK's food banks do a fantastic job, but more than half of those who currently use them need a more sustainable solution to truly lift them out of food poverty. Community supermarkets offer one way for people to come together to access affordable food, alongside other support that can help them get back on an even keel.
"Businesses have a major role to play. At the moment, laws and regulations make it difficult for food to be diverted from landfill to where it's really needed. We'd like to see Government help remove some of the obstacles preventing those with good intentions from being able to easily redistribute food to those in need."
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