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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Low income is the top reason for food bank use in NI

The last few years has seen an increase in the number of food banks operating in Northern Ireland. The Department for Social Development (DSD) recently undertook research to better understand why people need to use them.

Their research, An Insight into Food Banks in Northern Ireland,  found that a third of people in Northern Ireland have to use the food banks because of their low income.

Who is using the food banks?

Based on the data provided to the DSD by the individual food banks, they were able to tell that the  primary user of food banks is aged between 25 and 64.

For a smaller independent Belfast food bank they visited, benefit issues were the main reason that people had to use their facilities. However, outside of Belfast ‘low income’ generally topped the list as the main reason for using food banks.

In order for the researchers to get a more in-depth picture,  face-to-face surveys with users were completed at food banks in Belfast (two food banks) Bangor, Banbridge, Cookstown, and Strabane.

The surveys results showed that:

  • Almost three quarters of respondents who completed the survey had used a food bank previously
  • Three-quarters (75%) of the survey respondents said they were unemployed, with the remaining quarter (25%) stating they were in employment.
  • Almost four-fifths (78%) of survey respondents were receiving at least one benefit.
  • The most common single benefit received was ‘Housing Benefit’, with 80% of respondents on benefits receiving it.

Why do people need to use the food banks? 

  • A third (33%) of respondents stated ‘low income’ as a reason for why they needed to contact the food bank. This can include both low income from employment and/ or social security benefits.
  • Just over a fifth (22%) of those who were surveyed cited ‘difficulty budgeting’ as the cause for visiting the food bank.
  • Delays with social security benefits and debt were each mentioned by 18% of respondents as an explanation for being referred to a food bank.
  • ‘Changes to a benefit claim’ was noted by 16% as being a contributing factor for referral.

The full report can be found on the DSD website.

Tagged In

Benefits, Affordability

This article was written on 18 August 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.