Sharp rise in food bank use in Northern Ireland blamed on benefits delays
The number of people in Northern Ireland using food banks has risen by 29% as more families struggle with the cost of living.
In just six months, 17,571 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis here.
Almost half of these (7,260) went to children.
This is a 29% increase on the same period in 2018 - one of the sharpest rises seen for the past five years.
The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks across the UK, warned yesterday more people than ever before are now being forced to go to food banks.
It said data shows that April to September 2019 was the busiest half-year period for food banks in the Trussell Trust's network since the charity opened.
The main reasons for people needing emergency food are low benefit income (43%), and delays (13%) or changes (17%) to benefits being paid.
One of the key issues people at food banks face is the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment, the charity said.
It added that although Universal Credit is not the only benefit payment people at food banks experience problems with, the majority (65%) of referrals made between April and September were due to a delay in benefits linked specifically to it.
Across the UK, 823,145 emergency supplies were issued to people in crisis, 301,653 of which went to children.
As the general election nears, the charity is calling for politicians on all sides to pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics.
Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: "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. We know this situation can be fixed - our benefits system could be key to unlocking people from poverty.
"We want our next Government to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit, ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis.
"Together, these three changes will put money back into the pockets of people who most need our support.
"It's in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. This can change."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "We spend over £95 billion a year on welfare, and have simplified the benefits system through Universal Credit.
"Free school meals are provided for 1.3 million disadvantaged children, and over £26 million has also been invested in a breakfast club programme."
The Trussell Trust opened its first Northern Ireland food bank in Newtownards in December 2011.
It is now operating at more than 20 locations across the region.
Anti-poverty charity supports 23 centres
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that supports a network of more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK, including 23 in Northern Ireland.
Their food banks provide a minimum of three-days’ nutritionally balanced, non-perishable tinned and dried foods that have been donated people in the local community.
Many food banks also provide essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products.
If you’re organising a collection for your local food bank, please check with them first to see which items they are currently in need of.