By Jonny Currie, Northern Ireland Network Lead at the Trussell Trust
The upcoming Northern Ireland Assembly elections on 5 May are a crucial opportunity to ask prospective Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to commit to measures that will end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland.
“We have to be proactive. What we don’t want to do is just hand out food packages as and when people need them. We want to be able to help them in other ways, finding out why they’re in that position and getting them back to where they need to be.”
Northern Ireland Food Bank Project Manager
Since the pandemic hit, more people than ever have experienced destitution, meaning they are unable to afford the essentials, such as food and shelter, that we all need to survive. As the cost of living continues to rise and communities try to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, families in Northern Ireland are struggling to stay afloat.
There are 41 Trussell Trust food bank centres across Northern Ireland, serving people in all 18 Assembly constituencies. Our food bank data is telling a story of increasing need and it is simply not right that so many people in Northern Ireland are facing impossible decisions, unable to afford the essentials that we all need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.
Emergency food is not the long-term solution to addressing hunger and poverty
Nobody should have to turn to a charity because they can’t afford the essentials, but more than that, it doesn’t address the underlying issues that force people to use a food bank to get by. We’ve spoken to people who use our food banks, food bank staff and volunteers, and other anti-poverty organisations about what the NI Assembly can do to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland.
What are we calling for to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland?
1. We need a long-term plan to address poverty in Northern Ireland
Emergency food parcels and fuel payments are not enough to eradicate hunger long-term. The Northern Ireland Executive has the power to eradicate poverty and can do this through the development of a long-term strategy. The NI Executive has already agreed to this, but it still needs to be approved.
2. We must ensure that everyone can buy the food and essentials they need for themselves
Raising income and reducing costs is always preferable to the provision of emergency food. When people in financial hardship can’t afford the essentials, they should be able to access immediate support.
The NI Assembly can play an important role in using existing social security powers to increase incomes and move away from a focus on short-term solutions. Cash-based approaches are preferred by families with low-incomes because of their flexibility, dignity, safety and convenience.
3. There must be support for local services to ensure people get help at the right time
Accessing emergency food should be a last resort, yet households with low incomes often face significant barriers when trying to access support. Independent advice and other related services should be properly resourced and offered in a consistent and co-ordinated way so people can access the support they need in one place rather than being passed from one agency to the next.
4. The experience of people with lived experience of hunger and poverty should help shape the services they need
The NI Assembly should work directly with people affected by poverty to learn from their experiences and co-design better policy solutions.
It is also important to work with food bank staff and volunteers to end the need for food banks. Food banks know and serve their communities and can support transformation to address the underlying drivers of food bank use.
How can you help?
We need your help to reach candidates and call for steps to end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland. Please use your voice and contact your candidate.
“It is so hard to know what the future holds for our community, but we will be doing all we can to be at the forefront, providing support, advice and guidance until the time comes when there is no need for us.”
Food bank Project Manager in Northern Ireland.
Every single one of the 90 MLAs elected to the NI Assembly can use their power and influence to deliver the changes we need to work towards a Northern Ireland without the need for food banks.
Working together, we can make change happen and end the need for emergency food in Northern Ireland. For more information about how you can use your voice to create change, please visit our elections page.