We are in the grip of an emerging poverty crisis that is forcing people to use torches to light their homes and go days without food, it has been claimed.
he People’s Kitchen, which provides financial aid and food to some of Belfast’s poorest people, said it is fielding up to 70 calls a day from those in need.
In one particularly harrowing phone call this week, an elderly man appealed for support as he was unable to pay for electricity and was using a torch to find his way around his home. In another case, a single mother of two children had gone two days without food so her youngsters wouldn’t go hungry.
The charity said much of the increased need has come as a result of Covid-19, with increasing unemployment due to the severe restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.
Paul McCusker, coordinator at the People’s Kitchen, said: “I’ve never seen desperation like this ever before. It has been the worst it has ever been over the past number of months. We’re taking between 50 and 70 calls a day from people in need and they’re from people of all ages and all social groups.
“We helped a couple recently who have had good jobs all their lives, but they lost them because of Covid, which meant they weren’t able to pay their rent and their landlord issued them with a notice to quit, he didn’t care about their situation. This couple ended up homeless as a result, all they had was two bags of clothes, so we’ve been supporting them and trying to find them alternative accommodation.
“We’re dealing with children going hungry and parents going without; we helped a woman this week who couldn’t afford food and by the time we got to her she hadn’t eaten for two days, just so she could feed her children.
“Quite often the people we help are embarrassed that they’re relying on a food bank, that’s why we deliver our parcels in supermarket bags and we actually have one woman who tells her children that it’s a Tesco delivery because she doesn’t want them to know the truth.
“We don’t just deal with hunger, we help people who can’t afford to heat their homes. We know fuel poverty is a huge issue and we know that throughout winter that older people die from underlying conditions because they can’t keep their homes warm.
“We received a call from an elderly man who was using a torch for light and the look of desperation on this poor man’s face was so sad, but we were able to support him and give him some money to pay for electricity.
“Some of the homes we go into, the poverty is so extreme that people don’t even have a cooker to cook the food we’re providing – it’s actually quite a regular occurrence.
“That means we have to take that into account and provide items such as Pot Noodles, as well as financial support or help to buy cookers.”
Paul, who is the SDLP Deputy Lord Mayor, said people living in poverty are more likely to become addicted to drink and drugs as a way of coping with the situation. He said it also leads to an increase in mental ill-health.
He insisted that long-term strategies need to be put in place.
“Everything that we do is a crisis response, we’re responding to an immediate need, but we need to be looking at what can be done to stop people getting into this situation in the first place, and also how to get out of poverty.”
To help, visit the People’s Kitchen Belfast Facebook page or ring 07783 376 664