Cost of living crisis blamed for 30% increase…

    FOODBANK usage in Ards has shot up, with almost 100 families seeking help in a month when demand usually eases off.

    That’s according to the team at Newtownards Foodbank, part of the UK-wide Trussell Trust network.

    They say that summer is normally a quieter time, bringing a reduction in demand for their vital service.

    But that’s not so in 2023, as last month an average of 24 families came through their doors looking for help every week.

    That’s on top of a 30% increase in demand during the last financial year compared to the year before, showing the scale of a problem that’s only getting worse in Newtownards as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

    Things have become so bad that, says the foodbank’s Richard Porter, they’re now giving out more than twice as many food parcels as they did five years ago.

    Mr Porter revealed his concerns in a letter to Strangford MP, Jim Shannon, in which he calls for changes to the way Universal Credit is paid.

    He blames cuts to social security for the increasing problem, pointing out that the basic rate of Universal Credit is now at its lowest ever level as a proportion of average earnings.

    “Support has eroded over decades,” he says. “While the cost of living crisis and the pandemic have placed additional pressures on incomes, this year’s rise is part of a longer-term trend in levels of need.

    “Many attendees are struggling with the inability to feed their families and provide fuel for their housing.

    “A significant proportion are actually working, but their outgoings outstrip their income. Those on benefits clearly don’t get enough to match their basic needs.

    “No one should be forced to turn to a food bank because they cannot afford essentials, including food.

    “We provide immediate support to people in our community when they are struggling the most, but our vision is for a world where foodbanks like ours don’t need to exist.”

    Alongside the Trussell Trust, he’s calling for changes to social security so that Universal Credit is guaranteed to provide people enough to cover their essentials – food, energy and basic household goods.

    That call has been backed by Mr Shannon, who raised the issue in Westminster last week.

    Mr Shannon stated that his office regularly sees people desperate for help with Universal Credit – some who struggle to navigate the complex system, some stuck waiting for weeks without money, and some who get hit by surprise deductions after being overpaid.

    “There are so many steps that must be taken to make Universal Credit easier,” said the DUP MP.

    “Families must be able to depend on their government and I look in that direction to see how we can do things differently, so people are not forced to attend foodbanks and are able to live stable and healthy lives.”

    The foodbank is open three times a week at House Church Compassion Centre on Crawfordsburn Road, Newtownards; it also runs satellite branches once a week in Kircubbin and Portaferry.

    More information can be found at