THE BLOG
10/12/2013 09:59 GMT | Updated 09/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Do Food Banks Have a Silver Lining?

Here's a cracking social enterprise model - big name retailers need to get rid of old stock at minimal cost - so they give it to a "social" supermarket who only sells to those living locally, on welfare and at significant discount.

"The UK's first 'social supermarket' has opened for business, selling cheap products to people on welfare support," reports the BBC. "The Community Shop will sell items ranging from food to toothpaste up to 70% cheaper from a store at Goldthorpe, a former mining village near Barnsley."

When I think of practical solutions, lite-government, idea generation outside the left-wing right-wing sandbox - The Community Shop is exactly what I mean.

What The Community Shop does well is identify unmet needs in intersecting sectors, which apply to the same category of goods (essential household items).

1) The supermarket sector - which has a need to dispose surplus essential household items, which they can't sell.

2) The low-income sector - households who currently can't afford those essential household items

The Community Shop wins in both sectors - offering a cost-effective opportunity to supermarkets, who otherwise face disposal costs, and the low-income sector, who get a juicy 70% discount on essential household wares.

Initiatives like these are building social value out of what society does not economically value.

Any product which uses raw materials that are in excess in one sector, converts them at minimal cost for use in a different sector, in which they will have more value, should be broadly successful.

The opportunity for social entrepreneurs is clear and has already been capitalized on. Successful social enterprises now manufacture furniture, handbags or food in re-using other sectors waste, and others could follow suit.

In fact, left-wing commentators may have missed a trick by continually condemning the rise of food bank usage. These initiatives, market-led solutions, may have all along held the key to fixing low-income poverty.

40% of the UKs food is wasted, never reaching a dining table. Why not let the market capitalize on that, and start re-distributing wealth more efficiently than state welfare ever will?

Waste is the single greatest opportunity in the UK right now - for solving problems ranging from climate change to poverty to community cohesion.

The government still has a role - but it should be to incentivise these transfers of waste to the social enterprise sector.

a) Introducing legislation which gives tax breaks to companies that dispose of waste via social enterprise.

b) Giving "Best By Date" extensions (a couple of weeks) for social enterprises re-selling food from supermarkets.

c) Cutting business rates for social enterprises

d) Setting up a Start-up Loan Company equivalent, focused not just on general entrepreneurship, but on the social enterprise sector.

e) Offer tax incentives to high-street banks lending to the social enterprise sector.