Recently we have been hearing much about economic recovery. Unfortunately this recovery is a very long way off for many people across Northern Ireland. Many approach advice services feeling they have nowhere left to turn as they grapple with job loss, job insecurity, poverty, mental or physical ill-health, debt and many more issues that are proliferating due to the recession and austerity measures.
Advisers offer advice and advocacy in relation to the main issues presenting, such as debt, social security, tax credits, housing and employment. However, they are also increasingly referring people to other services such as food banks, debt and counselling services and other statutory and community services to ensure that immediate needs, such as lack of food, are met.
Earlier this year Advice NI member organisations reported seeing an increasing number of people who were seeking advice in a critical financial situation where there was no immediate support available from the social security or tax credit systems. We found that the number of food banks in Northern Ireland had increased rapidly during the last year and the demand for their assistance has grown.
The support available ranges from established charities and food banks operating on a highly organised model to small-scale projects which respond to need as required.
It is clear that there are a significant number of community organisations and churches who are providing food to those in need.
At least 16 organisations across Northern Ireland distribute emergency food and other goods on a regular basis. Fourteen of these identify themselves specifically as food banks although they may also be engaged in distributing other goods such as clothes, toiletries and furniture.
We believe that one organisation, the Trussell Trust, has supplied as many as 11,000 people across Northern Ireland, who have no alternative but to seek food parcels for both themselves and their families.
This shocking 489% increase is a terrible situation which Advice NI believes needs to be understood and addressed.