The Salvation Army says the Universal Credit regime has sparked unprecedented demand for toys this Christmas.
Doreen Chapman, Community Manager, said the controversial new welfare system, has left the church and charity extremely short of gifts.
High unemployment levels and low wages have made this Christmas a struggle for more and more local families.
“We have jumped up in the amount of people who need help due to UC and the lack of employment in the area. Families are really struggling.
“There’s been a definite increase in our numbers. We are sitting now at the minute with 575 children that need toys.
“We’re sitting with 282 hampers that need to go out to families. Another two agencies have just told me that social workers or health visitors have contacted them to say they used to have toys from other sources but the other sources are no longer doing it and they have been passed on to us. There could be another 50 children there.
“I reckon we are going to hit about 650, if not more. We’re really short, that’s why we are up collecting toys,” said Ms. Chapman.
The ‘Journal’ Christmas Toy Appeal - in conjunction with St. Vincent dePaul, the Salvation Army and firefighters from Northland Road station - is now in its 20th year.
Dozens of toys have already been donated by the wonderfully generous Derry public.
“Any donations that we’ve had we are truly grateful for,” acknowledged Mrs. Chapman.
However, the implementation of the UC system in Derry has had a major impact. Since early 2018 all new claimants of the old Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits payments in Derry have been put through the UC regime.
Between now and March 2022 all welfare claimants will be transferred across to the UC system if it is not reformed.
Ms. Chapman said: “I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’ve never had the demand as high.”
She said the charity was particularly short of toys for two particular age brackets.
“These are the age groups we want to push for; seven to 14, boy and girl, and two to four, boy and girl.
“We’re just highlighting that UC and the changeover, and anybody that’s working on a low wage, mean people are struggling . They need help. It’s just getting a bigger demand this year and at the minute we can’t cope with it.”
Donations of new toys can be dropped at the Salvation Army, John Street; St. Vincent de Paul, Ozanam House, 22 Bridge Street; and at the Derry Journal Offices, cnr. Duncreggan Road/Pennyburn Pass.