While UK Prime Minister David Cameron says that changes to welfare which have left hundreds of thousands hungry is part of his “moral mission” a new national grassroots campaign, End Hunger Fast, which takes a very different view of the matter, was launched on 20 February 2014.
Naming this a “national crisis” the letter, published in the Daily Mirror newspaper, comes from 40 senior faith leaders from many major Christian denominations including 24 Church of England Bishops.
The letter has further ramped up pressure on the UK Government to act on the growing hunger crisis in Britain, which it is still actively seeking to deny.
Food banks around the UK are reporting that the number of people in need is rising to crisis point as the poorest miss out on the economic recovery. Over half a million people have received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in the UK since last Easter. Meanwhile hospital admissions for malnutrition have almost doubled, to 5,500.
The letter explains: “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.”
As Mr Cameron weighs into the welfare debate the letter from church leaders is quite clear on the point “Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”
The letter is the first step of a response to rising hunger from food bank volunteers, church groups and poverty activists supporting End Hunger Fast.
The grassroots campaign will bring people from across the country together to call on the Government to meet its duty of care to UK citizens. It calls for immediate action on welfare, wages and food markets, three of the biggest contributors to the hunger crisis.
Supporting church groups, many of whom are also involved with running food banks plan to sign up thousands of supporters for a national day of fasting on 4 April 2014. Plans for the March 2014 launch will include the release of new polling data showing the strength of public support for the campaign.
A ‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ ad campaign from Church Action on Poverty will also be timed for the fast.
A fasting relay, with forty high profile faith leaders, celebrities and food bank volunteers will take place, passing a fasting baton day by day.
There will also be a vigil outside Westminster, which plans to bring Government ministers face to face with the realities of hunger.
Chris Mould, chair of The Trussell Trust – the charity which runs a network of 400 foodbanks – commented: “That hundreds of thousands of men, women and children living in the seventh richest country in the world are being forced to seek help simply in order to eat is unacceptable.
“In January 2014 alone Trussell Trust foodbanks gave three days’ food to 85,775 people, including 30,670 children. Some have gone without food for days.
“The foodbank 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.
“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.”
Keith Hebden, End Hunger Fast campaign spokesperson, who is an Anglican parish priest in Mansfield and an associate of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, added: "All kinds of circumstances push people to the edges of society where they now face a triple whammy of welfare cuts, wage stagnation, and food price rises. The Government is failing in its duty of care to provide basic safety net for its own 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 Britains 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 4 April, and ultimately asking him to act to prevent the rise of hunger," said Mr Hebden.
"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 Britions who go hungry each day.
“This isn’t just about welfare. Ever more people are attending our foodbank and others across the country who are in work. The simple fact is that more and more families are just one unexpected bill from empty cupboards. Government must act.”
Ekklesia is an active supporter of the End Hunger Fast.
* End Hunger Fast: http://endhungerfast.co.uk