Call to fast in protest of food poverty

Photo: Ebbw Vale Foodbank
Ebbw Vale Foodbank, one of hundreds across the country providing emergency food to people struggling to put food on the table

A campaign has been launched to encourage people all over the UK to fast as an act of protest in response to the rising issue of food poverty in Britain.

Over half a million Brits have received emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks since last Easter, while hospitals are reporting a doubling in the number of people being admitted for malnutrition.

Welfare cuts, wage freezes and the rising cost of food are all adding to the problem which church leaders have called a "national crisis" in an open letter to David Cameron published in The Mirror yesterday.

"One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children, and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards," reads the letter, which is signed by 27 Church of England bishops and representatives from the Methodist and URC churches, and Quakers.

"We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must 'heat or eat' each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30 per cent in just five years.

"Britain is the world's seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry," it notes, stating that the coalition Government must take responsibility for the failures of the benefit system.

"We call on the Government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger."

Just a few days ago the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols criticised Cameron's welfare reform and tax policies, claiming that the welfare state has become "more punitive."

He said that "inordinate" levels of taxation were responsible for high levels of poverty, particularly within families in which there is only one working parent.

Prime Minister Cameron was forced to defend his party's policies, saying that he disagreed "deeply" with Nichols' remarks and that welfare reforms have been made in an effort to built "a country where people aren't trapped in a cycle of dependency".

He also repeated a previous statement that "those who can should, those who can't we will always help".

Church leaders, food bank campaigners and anti-poverty groups remain critical of the Government's treatment of the poorest members of society.

The End Hunger Fast, supported by the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty, is to launch on 5 March, and is asking people to pledge their support for the campaign in the hopes of showing the Government that it is an issue that citizens care deeply about and want to see transformed.

Churches will also be taking part in a national day of fasting on 4 April in solidarity with those who are suffering from food poverty, while a team of forty high profile faith leaders, celebrities and food bank volunteers will be taking part in a fasting relay.

The launch on 5 March, which coincides with the beginning of Lent, will see a prayer vigil being held outside Westminster and the launch of a "Britain isn't Eating" campaign from Church Action on Poverty.

Chris Mould, Chairman of the Trussell Trust, condemned on Tuesday suggestions that demand for foodbanks had increased simply due to an increase in supply.  He has branded the escalation in food poverty as "unacceptable".

"The food bank debate should not be about party politics, it should be about recognising the reality of what's happening right now in our nation, listening to the voices of the people who struggle to feed their families," he said.

"We need to wake up to the hunger on our doorsteps, and ask urgent, in depth questions about why this is happening and then be brave enough to take action to stop it. We'd urge people to add their voice to the call to end hunger, fast."

End Hunger Fast campaign spokesperson and a parish priest in Mansfield, Keith Hebden, has criticised the Government for "failing in its duty of care" to its citizens.

"We must reconsider urgently the society we are becoming, the hunger we permit. For David Cameron to defend what is happening in the welfare system as a part of his 'moral mission', when the reality is that hundreds of thousands of Britons have been left hungry is truly shocking.

"We respect the Prime Minister's sense of moral purpose. That's exactly why we're inviting to come and see for himself the foodbanks operating in places like Mansfield, for him to join us in a national day of fasting and reflection on April 4, and ultimately asking him to act to prevent the rise of hunger.

"My hope is that others will join us and fast for a day, a week, or as they feel able, in sympathy with the half a million Britons who go hungry each day," he concluded.

For more information on the campaign go to www.endhungerfast.co.uk

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