Belfast Telegraph

Charities in Stormont plea over sharp rise in families hit by severe poverty

By Joanne Sweeney and Claire Williamson

Two leading charity campaigners have called on the Executive to make poverty a priority as the numbers of families needing free food to survive as well as free school meals and uniforms has dramatically increased.

It's been revealed that thousands of people across Northern Ireland are relying on donated food every day to get by, while the number of children entitled to receive free school meals and uniforms has soared dramatically in the past five years.

Trussell Trust food banks have given three-day emergency food packs from its 25 depots to 6,473 adults and 5,224 children in 2013/14 compared to 1,102 adults and 885 children in 2012/13.

Co Down is reported to be the neediest county with 4,349 people being helped by the food banks last year, compared to just 765 people in Co Tyrone.

The charity FairShare, which distributes surplus food destined for landfill to charities that operate drop-in centres, said that it saw a 61% increase in the food it gave out to 65 charities last year –138 tonnes of food last year compared to the 82 tonnes the previous year.

The result is that thousands of people in crisis are relying on donated food each day with the most vulnerable in our community – the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers, lone parents and low income families being among the worst affected. Also last year, families applying for free school meals and uniforms hit a five-year high with nearly 80,000 applications for meals and 78,000 applications for free uniforms compared to almost 24,000 and 53,000 respectively in 2007/8.

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) chief executive Seamus McAleavey said that while he commended the organisations providing practical support for struggling families and individuals, the fact that people had to rely on food banks was "fundamentally wrong".

He said: "We know from our own research that people in Northern Ireland are relying on high cost loans or turning to illegal money-lending to meet everyday costs such as fuel, food and clothing.

"In September, the Northern Ireland Assembly will return for the final two years of this mandate. We are calling on them to make tackling poverty in Northern Ireland their number one priority."

Fergus Cooper of Save the Children said: "Poverty is no longer solely an issue about unemployment.

"Almost two in every three children living in poverty now in the UK is growing up in a family in which at least one adult is working.

"In the last four years, the cost of living has risen faster than incomes which have stagnated or even fallen."

Chris Goulden, head of poverty research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which revealed shocking statistics that confirmed that Northern Ireland was the hardest-hit region in the UK from the recession, called for a comprehensive approach to tackling poverty here.

"Stormont and Westminster need to work together to take a comprehensive approach to tackling poverty in Northern Ireland," he said.

"And we are currently working with all UK governments, business and others to devise an anti-poverty strategy for the UK and each devolved administration."

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