Christian anti-povery charity, The Trussel Trust, says Northern Irish food bank dependence - now, including at its Foyle food bank in Pump Street - has risen by 48 percent to reach record levels, with 25,755 three day emergency food supplies provided to people in crisis by the charity in the 2015/16 financial year, compared to 17,425 last year.
Of this number, 11,155 went to children, and in Londonderry, 193 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis last month.
The Trust says low income remains the biggest primary cause of food bank usage in Northern Ireland, accounting for 32 percent of all referrals.
Meanwhile, the Unite trade union has said the startling figures reflect the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to act to raise incomes for the working poor.
David McAuley, CEO of The Trussell Trust says: “Today’s figures on Northern Irish food bank use prove that the numbers of people hitting a crisis where they cannot afford to buy food are far too high. 25,700 three day food supplies given out by our food banks every year is 25,700 too many.
“This many people needing emergency food must not become the new normal. Reducing UK hunger will require a collective effort from the voluntary sector, Government, businesses and the public, and The Trussell Trust is keen to work with all these parties to find solutions that stop so many people needing food banks in future.”
Irish Secretary of Unite, Jimmy Kelly, said: “The figures released by the Trussell Trust today are truly shocking and show food poverty is a growing problem in Northern Ireland. Over the last year the numbers of three-day emergency food packages distributed here rose from 17,425 to 25,755 or by a staggering 47 per cent. The revelation that 11,125 of those packages went to children exposes the extent to which we are failing to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“The Trussell Trust indicates uptake here is largely among those living on ‘low incomes’. In the rest of the UK, other factors such as the high cost of living or problems accessing benefits are more important but in Northern Ireland the main problem is our increasingly low wage economy.
“These scandalous statistics reflect the NI Executive’s abject failure to address the issue of poverty pay and the burgeoning numbers of ‘working-poor’ households.”
The Trust says the main issues that cause working people to be referred are low wages, high living costs and problems accessing working benefits.
Benefit delays and changes account for 22 percent of referrals to food banks in Northern Ireland (14 percent benefit delay; 8 percent changes), a reduction on last year’s 24 percent.
Food banks report people are being impacted by a mix of delays and changes to various benefits including Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance.