Mothers are having to choose between feeding themselves and their children, a Fermanagh woman has said as families are going hungry and have been thrown into crisis by the spiralling cost of living.

Samantha Gallagher, Welfare Reform Advisor at Community Advice Fermanagh has revealed the full extent of the crisis facing people here and the incredibly tough choices that many are being forced to make.

Samantha highlighted numerous cases she is dealing with including parents who are feeding their children instead of themselves and in one devastating example Samantha recalled how, in speaking to a client about their situation, she could hear their stomach rumbling with hunger

Speaking about the needs of families in Fermanagh, Samantha told The Impartial Reporter this week: “What I see from people coming to me; they're hungry, and they're worried about their children, and I have mummies who feed their kids instead of themselves.

She continued: “When you see the severity of where we are right now, the increase in the use of food banks, the increase in the referrals that we've had to give to the likes of St. Vincent DePaul to say that they've doubled would be a complete understatement. I'd say [it has increased] 10 fold.

READ MORE: Cost of living crisis hitting Fermanagh people hard

“It's families that are working that are using all of their income to get by on the essentials, and then they are supplementing things by using the food bank.”

She also cited a lack of childcare options in Fermanagh as a problem for families. She said: “Childcare availability and places are very low. There’s a lot of creches and stuff but just don't seem to have the spaces available. Of course, everybody respects that there's a price to pay, but people are worrying about funding the price of that.”

One concern for many is the change from legacy benefits to Universal Credit. Samantha said: “The crux of the matter is the safety net is not really as good as what it was in the legacy benefits and that's where we are. You’re coupling the cost-of-living crisis with a Social Security system, but it isn't really fit for purpose and is lower than what it has ever been.”

With the change less people will receive support that they had previously received through the likes of free school meals and school uniform grants.

Samantha explained: “If we take Universal Credit, say you had a change in circumstances and you need to move from Tax Credits onto Universal Credit. The amount of money that you get is lower, there's a two child limit unless you meet very exceptional circumstances and there's a benefit cap attached to it.

“Your income level for free school meals and uniform growth is a lot lower. So when you're on the tax credits, you can earn up to £16,190 [and qualify] and on Universal Credit, it's £14,000.”

The advice sector has been pushing for change says Samantha: “There a whole host of changes that were recommended by an independent steering group that was created to look into how poorly administered Universal Credit is. That report was released on the day Stormont collapsed, and I was part of that advisory panel.”

Looking at the social security framework and what can be done to change it, removing the benefit cap and two child limit on Universal Credit were some of the solutions presented

Citing other solutions for families, Samantha said: The [reinstatement of the] £20 per week uplift on Universal Credit is a given, it’s a bare minimum.”

Addressing the need for political intervention to help find solutions to alleviate the cost of living crisis, Samantha said: “Nothing can be changed without a functioning government. All civil servants can do is implement the laws that have already been created. So if we need changes, we really do we need a functioning government.”

Emphasising the dire situation many people are finding themselves in, Samantha said: “I heard a thing the other day where an NHS doctor said that the NHS was on the brink of collapse, I think families are on the brink here. We are in a crisis; I can't stress it enough and it really isn't good enough.”

If you wish to contact Community Advice Fermanagh, you can do so by calling 0739 492 1753.

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