Emergency food parcels for Northern Ireland children rose by 8% last summer
The number of emergency food parcels issued to children in Northern Ireland has increased, a charity has said.
A total of 1,758 packages were given to young people here during the 2018 school summer holidays - a 7.7% rise on the same period in 2017.
The number of food parcels issued to adults in this two-month period rose by 8.7% - from 2,524 to 2,743 - year on year.
The figures are disclosed in a report by The Trussell Trust, a UK-wide network of food bank centres that provides emergency food and support to people locked in poverty. The charity has urged people to donate food to their local food bank.
Dave Magill, operations manager for Northern Ireland at the Trussell Trust, said more than a third of all food distributed by food banks in its network here goes to children, with extra financial pressure during the holidays for families entitled to free school meals during term time.
The figures come against a backdrop of rising food bank use here.
In 2018/19 food bank use escalated throughout the year with a 13% total increase.
The charity has warned that food banks are not a long-term solution, and more must be done to ensure people have enough money for essentials like food.
It said tackling delays and gaps in benefits, which affect families' ability to afford essentials, should be a priority for the Government.
Mr Magill said: "Food banks do all they can to help families in Northern Ireland over the summer and many run holiday clubs to support parents who find that their income simply won't stretch to meet the extra pressure of missing free school meals or paying for extra childcare.
"But no charity can replace the dignity of having enough money for the basics.
"Ultimately, we should all be protected from needing a food bank's help, no matter the time of the year."
He said one step would be to end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment, which the charity said is a key driver of increased need at food banks.
Mr Magill added: "We know Northern Ireland is already on a cliff-edge with less than a year to go before we see the extra protections currently available to people under our benefits system come to an end.
"We have real concerns that unless these protections are preserved, families will continue to struggle not just during the school holidays but all-year round.
"If we are to end hunger in Northern Ireland, we need to make sure everyone is anchored from being swept into poverty."
The Department for Communities said people use food banks for many reasons and it would be misleading to link them to any single cause.
It added: "The Evason Report on welfare mitigations included a recommendation to tackle food poverty in Northern Ireland by 'improving access to affordable food through a network of community shops and social stores/supermarkets'."
It said the department launched a social supermarket pilot programme in October 2017. "The scheme was originally funded until 2020, and a rolling evaluation of the pilot is being undertaken with initial feedback showing a high demand for the service in all of the pilot areas and positive early impacts for those availing of the support.
"As of March 31, 697 individuals had been in receipt of support for themselves and their families and over 85 tonnes of surplus food which would have gone to waste have been redistributed through the Social Supermarkets.
"The five-week waiting period for Universal Credit is determined by legislation."
The number of food parcels given to young people here during the 2018 school summer holidays