Belfast Telegraph

Ending hunger about much more than food

The Trussell Trust, which operates a network of food banks, has revealed that during the six months to September this year, it distributed 17,571 three-day emergency food parcels in Northern Ireland (Jonathan Brady/PA)
The Trussell Trust, which operates a network of food banks, has revealed that during the six months to September this year, it distributed 17,571 three-day emergency food parcels in Northern Ireland (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

In the run-up to our consumerist Christmas it is disturbing to be told that the number of food banks in Northern Ireland has jumped by almost a third. This should shame a country where that same word has long since ceased to have any moral or dramatic meaning.

The Trussell Trust, which operates a network of food banks, has revealed that during the six months to September this year, it distributed 17,571 three-day emergency food parcels in Northern Ireland.

This marks an increase of 29% on the previous six months. It is particularly disturbing that 41% of these, a total of 7,260, went to children.

The summer holidays, during which meals at school are stopped, can explain some -but not all - of this increase.

It is clear that a number of things, including a 'multiplier factor" apply, in which people who had previously been net contributors to food banks now find themselves on the receiving end as clients.

The Chancellor Sajid Javid may have revealed his austerity-busting Budget plans as an election sweetener, but a dozen years after the banking crisis, the reality is that austerity is alive and well in Northern Ireland.

The Trussell Trust has called on all UK politicians to pledge themselves to protect people from hunger by ensuring that everyone has enough money for the basics of life.

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In Northern Ireland we continually hear about a panoply of "rights," but rarely do these include the right of a child not to go to bed hungry. Sadly, however, this is increasingly the case.

In fact it is charitable organisations which have long supplanted the Government in providing many of the most basic of society's needs, but ending hunger is about more than food.

What is also needed is compassionate and practical support for people in crises to better assist them to address the underlying causes, and to help them break free from the vicious circle of poverty.

Every party fielding election candidates should be asked to outline their manifesto commitment to addressing food poverty. That should make for interesting, if perhaps brief, reading.

As with so many problems affecting Northern Ireland, those same parties should be harried, hounded and badgered until they tell us what practical steps they are taking to restore power-sharing at Stormont. That, if nothing else, should give them food for thought.

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