- Advice NI has dealt with 270,000 enquiries mostly related to social security issues.
- Food banks have grown from 2 operating in 2011 to at least 14 this year.
- Over 11,000 people have needed emergency food parcels, often as a result of administrative delays in receiving benefits.
- Personal and business debt is still on the rise.
- Fears that an interest rate rise will see a marked growth in repossessions
Northern Ireland’s leading advice organisation has highlighted an alarming growth in the number of people seeking access to foodbanks as a result of continuing social deprivation with over 11,000 people access free food parcels in the past year. Launching the organisation’s annual report, Advice NI Chief Executive Bob Stronge said that the growth in the numbers of people who need help to eat is a serious issue for everyone.
“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/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. Advice NI found that the number of foodbanks 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 foodbanks operating on a highly organised model to small‐scale projects which respond to need as required.
Bob Stronge continued,
“We don’t have exact figures yet, but 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. 14 of these identify themselves specifically as ‘foodbanks’ 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 as11,000 people across Northern Ireland who have no alternative but to seek food parcels for both themselves and their families. This is a terrible situation which needs to be understood and addressed.”
9 of these foodbanks are linked to the Trussell Trust, an organisation which has helped to set up approximately 374 foodbanks across the UK to date. According to the Trussell Trust, they have supplied over 11,000 adults and children with three days’ emergency food and support in Northern Ireland in the last 12 months, a shocking 489 percent rise on numbers helped in the previous financial year. More people are being referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks than ever before.
Their foodbanks, usually linked to a church or a community centre, are continuing to open around the UK at a rate of around 3 per week. The food comes via donations and the foodbank establishes partnerships with referral agencies such as doctor’s surgeries and social services. ‘Storehouse’ is a separate organisation which has been operating since 2008 and now distributes emergency food from two locations in the Belfast and North Down areas. In addition to the foodbanks operating in connection with more established organisations, independent foodbanks have also been set up in the Belfast, Greater Belfast and Ballynahinch areas. This list cannot claim to be exhaustive, but merely offers a snapshot of the current situation which is evolving fast. Figures obtained by Advice NI also found that in June 2013, 3 foodbanks operating independently from the Trussell Trust model and Storehouse fed 160 people in total.
Although these figures are not exhaustive and more extensive data gathering is required, they show that foodbanks are supporting significant numbers of people who require help for a wide range of reasons. In line with the evidence from the rest of UK, foodbank coordinators reported that many of those visiting foodbanks had experienced benefit delays.
Further elements of the Advice NI annual report made for sobering reading. During 2013-2014 the money and debt advice service, Debt Action NI, has helped over 5,000 people deal with over £62 million in debt. During this period over half (55%) of clients had no savings and 10% presented with a deficit budget which meant their income was not lasting until their next payday. Many were then relying on further credit to pay for essentials.
This year Advice NI launched the Business Debtline (BDL) service in Northern Ireland with funding from the Money Advice Trust. The service provides tailored, independent and impartial advice for sole traders, partnerships and Limited Companies to help them develop their business finance capabilities as well as helping resolve any immediate business debt problems clients may need advice with. The service also ensures clients are aware of their rights and responsibilities with regard to their trade, various tax and personal debts.
Since the service went live on 1 June 2013 and up until 31 March 2014 the service has advised over 320 clients, dealt with almost 1,000 calls and assisted with over £20 million of debt.
Bob Stronge concluded,
“Recent evidence suggests that although the economy is starting to recover, the proposed introduction of welfare reform, stagnant wages, and the increasing cost of living will lead to a greater demand on the money and debt advice sector for the foreseeable future. The percentage of people claiming unemployment and disability benefits in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than the rest of the UK. Nearly two thirds2 (62%) of people in Northern Ireland are home owners and we are deeply concerned that a future increase in interest rates is likely to have a detrimental effect on those who are currently just able to maintain their mortgage payments.”
For Further Information
Contact Barry Turley on 07734 256318 or Bob Stronge, Advice NI, Chief Executive on 07789756954