“Bringing heaven down to earth”: the purpose and place of religion in UK food aid

Publication authors

Madeleine Power, Neil Small, Bob Doherty, Barbara Stewart-Knox, Kate E. Pickett


This paper uses data from a city with a multi-ethnic, multi-faith population to better understand faith-based food aid. The paper aims to understand what constitutes faith-based responses to food insecurity, compare the prevalence and nature of faith-based food aid across different religions and explore how community food aid meets the needs of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith population.

The study involved two phases of primary research. In Phase 1, desk-based research and dialogue with stakeholders in local food security programmes were used to identify faith-based responses to food insecurity. Phase 2 consisted of 18 semi-structured interviews involving faith-based and secular charitable food aid organizations.

The paper illustrates the internal heterogeneity of faith-based food aid. Faith-based food aid is highly prevalent and the vast majority is Christian. Doctrine is a key motivation among Christian organizations for their provision of food. The fact that the clients at faith-based, particularly Christian, food aid did not reflect the local religious demographic is a cause for concern in light of the entry-barriers identified. This concern is heightened by the co-option of faith-based organizations by the state as part of the “Big Society” agenda.

This is the first academic study in the UK to look at the faith-based arrangements of Christian and Muslim food aid providers, to set out what it means to provide faith-based food aid in the UK and to explore how faith-based food aid interacts with people of other religions and no religion.