Almost four thousand emergency food packages were distributed via the Foyle Foodbank over the past year with persistent inequality and recent changes to the social welfare system cited as the principal causes of first world hunger in Derry.
The Trussell Trust, the Christian anti-poverty charity, which coordinates an extensive network of foodbanks in Ireland and Britain, releasing its annual foodbank statistics this week, revealed a dismaying level of dependency in Derry.
“In Foyle between April 2017 and March 2018, 3757 three day emergency food supplies were given to people facing crisis by the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, 1600 of which were for children,” the charity stated.
“Across Northern Ireland, 32,433 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis and 13,289 of these were provided for children,” it added.
An analysis of the underlying causes found that low income was the biggest single reason for a referral (45 per cent of cases). The other principal referral reasons in 2017/18 were benefit delays (12 per cent) and benefit changes (12 per cent).
Tony Graham, the Trussell Trust’s director in the North, said: “While the benefits freeze is currently ongoing in Northern Ireland, we hope the flexibilities and mitigations which support people on the lowest incomes are leading to a deceleration in foodbank use.
“Universal Credit (UC) may not be fully rolled out yet but it is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right in Northern Ireland, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank - disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan said the figures were both an indictment of the failure to restore power-sharing as well as of the UC regime.
“The DUP and Sinn Féin must shoulder the blame – as it’s as simple as this: no government, no power, no change,” he said.
“The Trussell Trust report states that unless changes are made to our welfare system, the situation will get worse with the roll out of UC.
“Disgracefully the DUP and Sinn Féin colluded together to bring in the welfare cuts and supported the flawed UC system that is set to inflict further hardship.
“Now, however, they have the chance to do the right thing - get back to Government instead of abdicating their responsibilities,” added the Derry MLA.