Northern Ireland foodbanks braced for Christmas rush as they face busiest month
A charity which runs foodbanks across Northern Ireland has warned that it is preparing for its busiest December ever in the run-up to Christmas.
The Trussell Trust has revealed that a total of 6,101 people here used its foodbanks during December 2017 - the busiest single month last year.
The figures, which were revealed today to mark the start of its Christmas campaign, show Co Antrim had the highest level of need with 1,249 adults and 1,025 children using the service - a total of 2,274.
This was followed by Co Down with 890 adults and 703 children visiting just over 12 months ago.
The third highest was Londonderry at 1,256 (726 adults and 530 children, then Armagh (384 adults and 341 children).
Fifth highest was Tyrone with 105 adults and 84 children, a total of 189, while the lowest was Fermanagh with a total of 64 foodbank users (41 adults and 23 children).
Across the UK the Trussell Trust provided 159,388 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis last December - 65,622 of which were distributed to children.
According to its latest statistics, this is a 49% increase on the 2017-18 monthly average.
The trust said its latest figures reveal that the need for foodbanks in December is rising steeply, with it recording a 10% increase across the UK from December 2016 compared to the same month last year.
The Trussell Trust has warned that it anticipates the need will be even greater this year due to the introduction of the Universal Credit benefit system which finishes its phased introduction here next month.
This system has resulted in people waiting a "minimum of five weeks" for their first payment, and has "only made matters worse", according to the charity.
It also cites the "inability of benefit levels to cover essential living costs", and issues with payments as remaining the most common reasons for foodbank referrals.
The issue has prompted Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie to urge supporters to donate food items as early as possible in December to help alleviate pressure ahead of the festive period.
"Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy but what we're seeing is the festive period becoming increasingly stressful for more and more people across the country," she said.
"Our benefits system is supposed protect us all from being swept into poverty - but what we're seeing is people struggling to heat homes and put food on the table because they simply cannot afford the basics anymore and that just isn't right."
The chief executive added: "Ultimately, it's unacceptable that anyone should have to use a foodbank in the first place.
"We do not want to be here in the long-term, continuing to pick up the pieces.
"That's why we're urging the Government to ensure benefits payments reflect the cost of living and reduce the waiting time for Universal Credit to help ensure we are all anchored from poverty."
To find out more please visit: www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/ find-a-foodban
the number of people in Northern Ireland who used foodbanks here in December 2017