Thousands caught in the poverty trap
A young mother-of-two has spoken of her desperation at spiralling into a mountain of debt she fears she will never escape from.
The single mum from Ardoyne in Belfast, who works part-time, said she has been plunged into having to "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" every day to find the money to survive.
She is just one of thousands of people across Northern Ireland who are living in poverty.
Her powerful words come amid a stark warning that Northern Ireland is still at crisis point with families on the breadline and urgent action must be taken if it is to be tackled effectively.
The message was voiced at the Civic Forum on Poverty – the first such event to be held in Belfast.
The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she referred to herself as 'Miss Arrears'.
"I have a shortfall of £122.69 a week, so I don't know how I manage it, but it's like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul," she said. "You always get through, but you're constantly paying out someone else each week.
"I still have my weekly bills: gas, electricity, TV licence. I'm now in arrears with them all and now Provident (loan company) £20 a week."
She added: "There are weeks when I dodge them and have to hide in the house, behind the sofa. I'm on edge all day; me and the kids are hiding and the kids think it's normal, but it's not normal. We laugh, because if we don't laugh we'll cry."
The number of families in the province relying on food banks has risen in the last 12 months and studies predict poverty levels will rise even more by 2020.
There are now 11 food banks operating in Northern Ireland and more than one-fifth of children live in households below the breadline.
Representatives within the community and voluntary sectors gathered at Belfast City Hall yesterday to discuss ways forward.
Politicians and representatives from the churches and businesses also attended the think-tank event.
Geraldine Wilkins, from the Community Foundation Northern Ireland, said the impending welfare reform legislation will have a bigger impact on families already struggling.
"Things are going to get worse. Already research shows the situation here is worse than in the rest of the UK. It is at crisis," she said.
Simon Geddis, from the Council for the Homeless NI and Fareshare food network, said: "We are moving in the region of 250,000 meals a year and the demand is growing."
Lord Mayor of Belfast Mairtin O Muilleoir said: "We spend a lot of time in the city of Belfast talking about flags and that's okay, but we need to spend as much time, and more time, speaking about the crisis of poverty."