Record numbers relying on food banks across Northern Ireland
More people than ever in Northern Ireland are being forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves, with low incomes and benefit delays blamed for the increase.
New figures released today by the Trussell Trust, who organise food banks across the UK, show foodbank use in Northern Ireland has hit a record high, increasing by 48% this year.
The revelation has been blasted as "scandalous" with union leaders criticising the Stormont Executive's "failure" of increasing numbers of families trying to get by on "poverty pay".
In 2015-16 emergency three-day food packages were needed in Northern Ireland 25,755 times, compared to last year's figure of 17,425.
It's reported that 11,155 of the parcels went to children and that on average those who needed a food parcel had to make two trips in a year.
The figures show that, unlike other areas in the UK, low income in Northern Ireland is the biggest problem, causing 32% of food referrals.
Benefit delays and changes to benefits like Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance are still causing 22% of food bank referrals, down slightly from last year's figure of 24%.
Jimmy Kelly from the trade union Unite said the figures were "truly shocking" and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to raise incomes for the working poor.
He argued that Northern Ireland was increasingly becoming a low wage economy, and said the fact that so many food packages were going to children "exposes the extent to which we are failing to protect the most vulnerable in our society".
"These scandalous statistics reflect the NI Executive's abject failure to address the issue of poverty pay and the burgeoning numbers of 'working-poor' households," he said.
"The Executive has the power to address this problem.
"They can enforce adoption of the genuine Living Wage rate by public bodies and make full Living Wage accreditation a condition for private companies seeking to obtain grant-aid support or win public procurement contracts."
He continued: "The incoming Executive should extend sectoral bargaining to those sections of the economy with the lowest pay rates and extend protections for those households dependent on benefits. In light of these figures, more of the same cannot be an option."
David McAuley, CEO of the Trussell Trust, said the number of people in crisis was simply "far too high".
He said: "The 25,755 three-day food supplies given out by our foodbanks every year is 25,755 too many.
"This many people needing emergency food must not become the new normal.
"Reducing UK hunger will require a collective effort from the voluntary sector, government, businesses and the public, and the Trussell Trust is keen to work with all these parties to find solutions that stop so many people needing foodbanks in future."
In 2015-16 a staggering 250 tonnes of food was given to Northern Ireland's foodbanks with 99% being donated by the public. Increasingly, many of the Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK offer extra services for those in crisis, including financial and debt advice.
For more on the Trussell Trust visit www.trusselltrust.org