Shock 50% rise in use of food banks in Northern Ireland in just one year
The use of food banks has soared by almost 50%, a leading charity has revealed.
Between April and September this year Trussell Trust food banks in Northern Ireland provided 8,921 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.
These figures are a 48% increase on the same period last year, when 6,021 families were helped.
In Northern Ireland - unlike the rest of the UK - low income remains the biggest cause of food bank use, accounting for 31% of total referrals.
Benefit delays and changes account for 27% of referrals - 18% down to delays, and 9% down to changes in payments.
A single mother of two young children who has been receiving help from a church-based food bank told the Belfast Telegraph it had been a godsend.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, has a six-month-old and an 18-month-old and is unable to work because she has no one to look after her children.
She was referred to the service three weeks ago and said it had been "absolutely brilliant".
The mother added: "It has really helped to get me through the week. The food parcel contains a really good mixture - lots of tinned food, milk, crisps, biscuits and noodles.
"I was really struggling when I was referred. When they first offered me the food parcels, I felt overwhelmed. They have been an absolute godsend."
Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley said a large number of people were referred to food banks because of welfare problems, adding that "more needs to be done to tackle welfare issues that can cause hunger".
Bob Stronge, chief executive of Advice NI, said the startling figures illustrated just how hard life was for many people.
The charity is holding its annual general meeting today, and as part of that will hear how use of food banks across the region has risen sharply this year.
Mr Stronge said: "The Fresh Start Agreement has enabled the welfare reform debate to move forward. We want to give keynote speakers the opportunity to provide some more information about what will happen next.
"And more importantly, we want these speakers to hear more about the vital work carried out by advisers in the independent advice network."
Advice NI dealt with 260,000 enquiries in the 2014/15 financial year. Experts from the advice organisation also represented people at more than 3,000 social security tribunals.