More than 15,000 children received emergency food supplies in Northern Ireland last year, research by an anti-poverty charity has revealed.
Over 20,000 adults also sought the packages, the Trussell Trust added.
The number of three-day packs awarded in 2018/19 increased by a “staggering” 214% in the last five years, trade union Unite added.
Unite community coordinator Albert Hewitt urged Northern Ireland’s politicians to support replacing the Universal Credit benefit, which he said was a key reason for a steep rise in food bank usage.
These figures are truly scandalous and an indictment of the local political parties who voted to hand the power over to the Tories to impose Universal Credit on working-class people here.Albert Hewitt
He said: “Unite in the community intend making this an election issue for the parties.
“Local political parties must indicate that they will vote to scrap this inhuman and failed social welfare regime.
“We demand the scrapping of Universal Credit and its replacement with a social welfare system that meets the needs of working-class people, in particular those in dire need and children.”
He alleged measures in Northern Ireland to mitigate the effect of UK-wide benefits changes represented an inadequate “fig leaf”.
From March next year around 34,000 households are set to lose support protecting them from cuts where housing is under-occupied, Advice NI has previously said.
It is known by critics as the “bedroom tax”.
In the financial year to the end of March 2019, the Trussell Trust provided 21,592 adults and 15,191 children three-day emergency food supplies in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hewitt said: “These figures are truly scandalous and an indictment of the local political parties who voted to hand the power over to the Tories to impose Universal Credit on working-class people here.”
The Trussell Trust’s chief executive, Emma Revie, said more people than ever before are being forced to turn to food banks.
“Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but currently thousands of women, men and children are not receiving sufficient protection from destitution.
“This is not right. But we know this situation can be fixed – our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty.
“This General Election, all political parties must pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics.”
She urged an end to the five-week wait for Universal Credit, measures ensuring benefit payments covered the cost of living, and investment in local emergency support for people in crisis.