Stormont probes growing demand for food banks
Stormont has launched an investigation into the growing demand for food banks by desperate families across Northern Ireland.
Executive minister Nelson McCausland wants to know the extent of food banks already in operation in the province – and how fast they have grown in recent years.
His Social Development Department is also working with food bank organisers to ensure families and people receiving the handouts from them are in genuine need.
But he has now commissioned official research "to understand the demand for and the reasons for people visiting food banks" here.
Last year a debate in the Assembly was told food banks in Northern Ireland were not only feeding crisis-hit families, but helping to prevent marriage breakdowns and people in danger of self-harming.
The investigation – which is due to report later this year – is being conducted by officials from the analytical services unit within the department along with the Social Security Agency.
But an initial survey is understood to have reported there are already between 20 and 30 food banks in Northern Ireland – with up to another 10 in the pipeline.
They include the Store House, which has two offices and a warehouse in Belfast; Railway Street Presbyterian Church in Lisburn; the Thriving Life Church in Newtownards; Causeway Coast vineyard in Coleraine, and Down Community Church in Ballynahinch.
There are others in Bangor, Craigavon and Maghera.
And it is understood there are further food banks in development in Dundonald, Ballymena, Cookstown, Lisburn, Coleraine and Londonderry.
Mr McCausland said: "My officials are working with the sector and have put in place a partnership model whereby food banks can ensure that every individual and family presenting in need of food support is referred to the Social Security Agency for a full and confidential benefit entitlement check.
"This assesses entitlement, not only to social security benefits, but also to a wide range of additional Government benefits, services and supports."
A statement from his department added: "A programme of research is therefore being developed to understand why there is an increased use of food banks in Northern Ireland."