SDLP West Belfast representative Paul Doherty has urged struggling families to turn to community support for help.
He was speaking after a Spotlight investigation found paramilitary groups are offering loans to food bank users.
Mr Doherty, who runs Foodstock in west Belfast, said it was shameful that groups were preying on people who are struggling.
Mr Doherty said:
“The stories shared in this Spotlight programme are unfortunately the reality in far too many communities across the North. I have seen first hand and heard many accounts of how these parasites are preying on people who are struggling to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads and at this time of year they have ramped up the pressure, offering people large sums of money they know they will be unable to pay back.
“I see every day the stress that families are under. The reaction from most people in this community has been unbelievable, when they see people struggling they want to help. It is unthinkable to me that others see the need and people who are suffering and their first instinct is to exploit them, it’s not at all reflective of how people have supported each either during the cost of living emergency.
“The British government and DUP should hang their heads, people were relying on energy support payments that they were told would arrive before Christmas to help them through the festive period and after being repeatedly let down people are getting increasingly desperate. To anyone who doesn’t know where to turn I would urge them not to engage with paramilitaries or money lenders. There are community groups like Foodstock right across the North who will do everything they can to help and signpost you in the right direction. Nobody should have to suffer in silence, help is out there and the last thing we want is anyone to fall victim to these groups.”