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Demand for food bank handouts at an all-time high

An unprecedented number of people in the north west are becoming dependent on food handouts from organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, according to the charity.

Many vulnerable people face increasingly harsher living conditions because of the economic downturn, growing unemployment and rising prices.

In many parts of Northern Ireland, food banks are emerging where emergency food supplies are distributed to people in debt or with low incomes.

In Londonderry, the St Vincent de Paul Society is the main charity that helps people struggling to make ends meet.

It provides people with food, fuel and clothing.

Charity spokesman Cormac Wilson said the number of people currently receiving help is unprecedented.

“While we have always provided this kind of work to people throughout the year, it would be fair to say that the numbers contacting us is greater than we have ever experienced,” he said.

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“Home visits are the cornerstone of the Society because we are mindful of people's dignity which is why we do not operate food banks per se, but work through the generous donations we receive,” he added.

The revelation came as the Assembly debated the new Welfare Reform Bill.

According to the Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan, the news that more families are short of the most basic essentials highlights the implications the Bill will have on many struggling families.

He said: “The need for food banks is greater than ever with more and more people suffering severe poverty while demand for this kind of help is growing. Without the charities, community and church organisations it would simply not be possible for many families to survive.

“Food bank providers are struggling to collect adequate donations due to the dire economic situation.

“Despite these challenges the people involved work tirelessly and their efforts — though often unheralded — are invaluable.

“The Government should support them in any way possible.

“However, it is fair to say that the Government must take some responsibility for the difficult circumstances people find themselves in.

“As well as increasing assistance for food bank providers, there must be concerted and consistent effort to reduce the need for them.

“This should manifest itself in opposition to the most severe welfare cuts contained in the Welfare Reform Bill and also a viable job creation strategy which will help lift many out of poverty and improve the economy,” he added.

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