Use of Craigavon Food Bank soars by 50% as chair praises community but admonishes politicians who 'have failed us and electorate'

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With a 50% rise in the use of Craigavon Area Food Bank, its Chairperson Chris Leech praises the community support it receives but admonishes politicians who ‘have failed us and failed their electorate’.

More than 600 people were supported in December compared to 400 the year before with many of those in need also seeking help with electricity and heating costs.

Mr Leech said: "The level of need is unprecedented. But also the type of crisis has changed. Many people are struggling to make ends meet even with full access to finances, whether that is through benefits or employment.

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Chris Leech of Craigavon Area Food Bank.Chris Leech of Craigavon Area Food Bank.
Chris Leech of Craigavon Area Food Bank.
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"Clients accessing food bank are now more regularly asking for support with electricity and heating costs. This is something that we cannot help with, but is so desperately needed, making it even more frustrating that there have been unnecessary delays in the release of support due to the lack of an executive in Stormont.

"The recent cold weather spell has brought into sharp focus the urgency of ensuring that this fuel support is provided as soon as possible. It is also essential that government deals with the issue of landlords receiving payments for electricity and heating and not passing them onto tenants.

"Alongside the increase in food bank usage, we have seen a significant rise in generosity from the local community. It is great to see how the local community has risen to the cost of living challenge and donated to us in significant numbers. We have been contacted by businesses and sports clubs who are collecting food and youth groups who are running food drives as part of their community impact projects.

"We have also been supported by healthcare professionals, who even though they are under pressure at this time of year, have been very generous to us. Many other fundraising activities have taken place in the support of food banks over the festive season, from Carol Services to sponsored walks and we are very thankful for all the help that is given.

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"Where our politicians have failed us and failed their electorate, the local community has stepped into the void to provide support and finance, which has been amazing to see, but we need progress on the political stalemate to continue to deal with the cost of living crisis on an ongoing basis.”

Mr Leech asked: “Our health professionals are suffering from Moral Distress, but is this something that our politicians feel? Or are they morally bankrupt?

"I heard Rita Devlin, Director of the Royal College of Nursing, speaking with eloquence and passion on BBC Radio Ulster Evening Extra and she used a term that I was unfamiliar with — Moral Distress.

"Rita Devlin explained ‘Moral distress happens when you know what the right thing is to do, but you are not able to do it. Which leads to moral injury, which in term causes burn-out and mental health issues’.

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"But what about our politicians who ‘know the right thing to do but will not do it’ (in terms of setting up an executive in Stormont and everything that comes with that in terms of support for healthcare, cost of living crisis etc). How do they feel?

"If not moral distress, then is moral bankruptcy a more appropriate term?

"Many claim that the Northern Ireland Protocol is costing our economy millions of pounds. But are we measuring the cost of protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol in human lives?

"This is a very troubling ongoing situation and yet some of this distress could be mitigated by a fully working Stormont Executive with multi-year budgets and providing a united voice in support for additional funding to the NHS at this critical time. We cannot say for certain the level of mitigation that could have been provided because no opportunity has been given with no executive in place.

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"Is it morally corrupt to continue with the blocking of an NI Executive with this level of crisis in every health trust area in Northern Ireland?

"What price has to be paid for changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. These changes may reap economic benefits, but we are currently measuring the inaction of Stormont in the currency of human lives. That, in my opinion is always too high a price to pay.”

SDLP councillor Ciaran Toman, who sits on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, said: “This vital support should have been delivered to households months ago and it’s absolutely disgraceful that the DUP’s boycott of the Stormont institutions and the British government’s lack of urgency has prevented people getting this much needed money that they were assured was on the way, with many budgeting for it to get them through the Christmas period.

“During the cost of living emergency the SDLP has repeatedly put forward plans to help people who are struggling, including a cost of living action plan and a voucher scheme for 1000l of home heating oil. We know that people in our communities are suffering and our representatives are working at every level, in council, at Stormont and in Westminster to help in any way we can. Our MLAs are ready to go back to work tomorrow, but the DUP's refusal is stopping us from dealing with issues impacting people across the North.

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“It’s important that we get clarity from the British government in the coming days on when exactly families can expect to receive this money, there can be no more false dawns, no further dither and delay, people have already waited far too long.”

The DUP was asked for a response but none was forthcoming at the time of publication.

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