'This is not right': Increase in first time foodbank users in Derry as poverty grip tightening
It has aslso emerged that many of those now requiring food parcels are in employment but are struggling to make ends meet.
Speaking following a winter in which demand for help soared, Karen Mullan said: “This winter has been extremely difficult for far too many, who did not have enough to cover essential household bills.
"We are seeing more and more people forced into debt to heat their homes and feed their families.
“We are grateful for the support and generosity of local people and businesses who have helped us keep going over the last year, but this is not a long term solution.”
Overall across the north, a record number of emergency food parcels were provided by Trussell Trust food banks in Northern Ireland in the past 12 months.
New annual figures from the Trussell Trust show that over 81,000 emergency parcels were provided by food banks in their network to the people of Northern Ireland over the year. Alarmingly more than 35,000 of the parcels were provided for children.
The number of parcels provided between April 2022 and March 2023 is a 141% increase compared to the same period five years ago.
The charity is calling for a stronger social security system that “ensures we can at least cover life’s essentials, like food, heating, and clothes”.
Research by the charities reveals that the £85 weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is at least £35 less than the weekly cost of essential items for a single person.
December 2022 was the busiest month on record for the Trussell Trust network in Northern Ireland with 12,262 parcels distributed.
Speaking about the rising need for emergency food, Jonny Currie, Network Lead in Northern Ireland at the Trussell Trust, said:
“These new statistics are extremely concerning and show that an increasing number of people in Northern Ireland are being left with no option but to turn to charitable, volunteer-run organisations to get by.
"The continued increase in parcel numbers over the last five years indicates that it is ongoing low levels of income and a social security system that isn’t fit for purpose that are forcing more people to access food banks, rather than just the recent cost of living crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone in Northern Ireland should be able to afford the essentials – to buy their own food and heat their homes. This has got harder in the last year, as has been shown by the 26,000 people needing an emergency food parcel for the first time and a huge increase in children needing our support. This is not right.
“For too long people have been going without because social security payments do not reflect life’s essential costs and people are being pushed deeper into hardship as a result. If we are to stop this continued growth and end the need for food banks, then the UK government must ensure that the standard allowance of Universal Credit is always enough to cover essential costs. We also need the urgent restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to put in place the policies that will protect local communities.”
The Trussell Trust’s long-term goal to end the need for food banks is one that the general public agree with. Polling by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust suggests that the public are increasingly concerned with issues related to poverty and hunger in Northern Ireland. The majority of people in Northern Ireland (76%) think that food banks should not be needed in the UK, with a strong majority agreeing (95%) that everyone should be able to buy enough food for themselves and their family.
When it comes to how poverty and hunger can be solved, people in Northern Ireland are largely in agreement that food banks do not solve the root causes of poverty (85%), with a strong assertion that responsibility for keeping people out of poverty lies with the Northern Ireland Executive.
To help ensure that everyone has the income they need to afford the essentials, the Trussell Trust is now calling for the UK government to act now to strengthen our social security system.
The charity has joined with Joseph Rowntree Foundation in urging the UK government to embed in law an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ that would make sure Universal Credit payments always, at a minimum, provide enough to the cover cost of essentials such as food, utilities, and vital household goods.