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05 March 2014

End hunger fast

by Graeme Stevenson

More and more people are just one unexpected bill away from facing bare cupboards, say End Hunger Fast.Today, on Ash Wednesday, the Government face a huge and growing call to take action on welfare, wages and food markets in the 2014 budget from the campaign.

In a country considered to be the world's seventh largest economy, where bankers' salaries have recently hit the headlines again and Manchester United's Wayne Rooney has signed a new contract worth £299,000 a week, a startling number of people are still turning to food banks just to be able to feed themselves and their families here in the UK.

A letter from faith leaders, including 27 bishops, and 20 leading charities are calling on the Government to act on the national crisis of hunger. Just Fair, Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and Child Poverty Action Group are just some of the backers who have thrown their weight behind End Hunger Fast for its official launch in a letter to national newspapers announcing "Hunger has returned to Britain".

More than 400 food banks are run up and down the country, aiding those who may be victims of redundancy, sickness, or delays in receiving benefits. Even some who are working but whose low pay is not enough to cover all of their living costs have found themselves turning to one of these food banks for help.

Last year The Trussell Trust reported that the numbers needing emergency help from food banks had shot up by 170 per cent over the course of the previous year. This figure appears to have increased further since last Easter. Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam have estimated that a total of over 500,000 people were helped by independent and Trussell Trust food banks in 2012-13 compared with 350,000 the year before.

To mark the start of the 40 day fasting relay, campaigners and church leaders will assemble near the Houses of Parliament and invite the public to fast in solidarity with the thousands of Britons going hungry. Building up to a national day of fasting on 4 April, the End Hunger Fast campaign is calling on the Government to take notice.

End Hunger Fast has been critical of the current benefits system, claiming that core reasons for the increase in people relying on food banks are "capping increases in benefits to 1 per cent rather than indexing them to inflation, and incompetency in and reform of the benefits system". Apparently 30 per cent of those visiting food banks do so because their benefits have been delayed.

Prime Minister David Cameron is facing pressure over his welfare reforms. This pressure has come most notably from the Archbishop Vincent Nicholls, who claimed on Radio 4's Today programme that Cameron's welfare cuts were 'deeply wrong' and leaving people in a 'destitute situation' where they would have to 'depend solely on the hand-outs of the charity of food banks'.

Cameron, while defending Archbishop Nichols' right to speak out against government policy, hit back at these criticisms by claiming that the reforms are to help give "new purpose, new opportunity, new hope, and new responsibility to people who had previously been written off." These reforms, Cameron argues, are about encouraging people to actively find work and better themselves instead of being 'forgotten about' in the benefits system.

Cameron's defence of the reforms are proving unsatisfactory to those who feel they will only exasperate the problem of hunger in Britain.

The End Hunger Fast campaign is hoping to grab the government's attention. Christians are being encouraged by those within the campaign to share their pledge with a local MP, while calling on them to take action against rising food prices, stagnant wages and failures in the welfare system.

Get involved in the campaign.