Adult poverty 'at 10-year high'
Adult poverty levels in Northern Ireland have soared to their highest rate since the official deprivation measurement was introduced 10 years ago, new figures have revealed.
The number of working age people considered to be in absolute poverty - those whose income is below 60% of an inflation adjusted bench-marked average - stood at 235,000 (22%) last year, according to Department of Social Development data.
This is up almost 100,000 on the 136,000 (13%) deemed in absolute poverty in 2010/11.
The figures published today cover the period April 2011 to March last year, with the data from this year not expected to be released until 2014.
In terms of relative poverty - which uses the current average income at any given time as a gauge - there was also an increase over 12 months from 199,000 (19%) in 2010/11 to 213,000 (20%) last year.
The increase was not as dramatic on the relative scale as the data showed that average wages have now also plummeted to the lowest level in a decade to £373 per week.
Across the population as a whole there were 422,000 (24%) considered to be in absolute poverty, up from 232,000 in 2010/11. This included 79,000 pensioners and 109,000 children.
Using the relative poverty measure, there were 379,000 people in the bracket, up from 355,000 on the previous year. There were 95,000 children and 72,000 pensioners included.
Reverend Gary Mason, who through the East Belfast Mission works with people experiencing financial hardship, said the figures reflected what he and his colleagues were experiencing on the ground.
"Our homeless services are totally oversubscribed," he said.
"We would have to turn away dozens of people a month.
"And in terms of our social fund to help people, we would have spent in the last year to 18 months more than what we spent in the previous five years."
Mr Mason highlighted the economic downturn and the impact of welfare reforms as factors in the increasing levels of poverty.
"I think the politicians need to take a very serious look at these issues," he said.
"One person I was speaking to recently said they had to make the decision on whether to feed themselves or their child - they chose the child.
"It's awful that people are currently facing those sorts of decisions."