Thousands forced to rely on foodbanks over low income and benefit delays
Two-thirds of people who needed a foodbank to feed themselves last year did so because they were living on a low income or had benefits issues.
Figures given by the Trussell Trust, Northern Ireland's largest foodbank provider, for last year show that the working poor faced difficult times providing for themselves and their families.
Issues with benefits being changed or delayed were identified as two of the main reasons why 11,808 men, women and children needed a food pack.
The Trussell Trust said that 37% of people referred to them were there because they were surviving on a low income and 15.5% because of benefit issues.
Susanne Downey, regional development officer at the charity, added: "Thousands of people across the province on low incomes are being squeezed by high living costs. When crisis hits, they turn to foodbanks for help.
"In communities across the province, foodbanks are preventing people from going hungry."
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has commissioned research into the reasons behind the increased use. In the meantime, his department has issued figures showing the Social Security Agency (SSA) is lagging behind only on Disability Living Allowance, which is taking 37.9 days to process rather than the 35 target.
A spokesman said the new research conducted with the SSA would help the department "understand the position in Northern Ireland" while reviewing the current provision of foodbanks across the region.
However, the top three reasons why people here rely on foodbanks are significantly different to the rest of the UK, according to the Trussell Trust.
While 37% of people here needed food packages because of low income, that figure was 20% in Britain. And while 15.5% of people here had benefit issues, it was 31% nationwide.
DUP MP Jim Shannon said he had referred people to foodbanks from his local constituency office and that he had noticed a change in recent months.
He added: "It used to be that the two biggest issues were housing and planning, but now the big one up next to these are benefits.
"If you drop an hour in your work or increase an hour, that automatically can affect your housing benefit, which stops.
"It can take anything from four to eight weeks to get that cleared. And in that amount of time, you can mount up rent arrears."
There are 23 foodbanks across the country – mostly run by a network of churches that provide donated food – and 638 registered agents, such as doctors, social workers, charities or organisations like Citizens Advice and St Vincent De Paul, who deal with people in crisis.
Foodbank: The facts
37% of people who used Trussell Trust foodbank last year were on a low income
11,808 men, women and children needed an emergency food pack
10% experienced poverty due to benefit delays
- Figures from Trussell Trust food bank for last year