An earlier letter from faith leaders, including 27 Anglican Bishops, calling on the government to act on the national crisis in UK hunger was backed up by 20 leading secular charities, including Just Fair, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group, who have thrown their weight behind End Hunger Fast for its official launch on Ash Wednesday in a letter to national newspapers announcing “Hunger has returned to Britain.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/202000)
The backing came as fresh statistics gathered from over 400 Trussell Trust food banks around the country vindicated the call for action. The Trussell Trust say that their food banks gave out three days’ emergency food over 600,000 times between April and December 2013, more than in the entire previous financial year (in 2012-13 Trussell Trust food banks gave out three days’ food almost 350,000 times). In addition to these figures, 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.
Meanwhile End Hunger Fast revealed the first wave of faith leaders, MPs, celebrities and poverty campaigners taking part in the 'fasting relay' to highlight the need for the Government to act on growing hunger.
The fasting relay was launched today with a photocall outside parliament. Those taking part in the first week of fasting include comedian Eddie Izzard, Helen Drewery, (General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness), the Rt Rev Michael Perham, Anglican Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Nick Holtam, Anglican Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, and Sarah Teather MP.
To mark the start of the 40 day fasting relay, campaigners and church leaders will assemble near the Houses of Parliament for a photocall, inviting the public to fast in solidarity with the thousands of Britons going hungry and calling on the Government to take action.
Fresh research vindicates campaign
The growing body of evidence supporting the campaign was added to today with key new sources of research. New Trussell Trust figures on food banks were joined by an End Hunger Fast poll, surveying 1,000 Britons, which found that over 50 per cent have had to tighten their belts, cutting down on food to pay other bills in the last year. One in five admit to having gone hungry to save money and 85 per cent agreed with the campaign’s call that “no one should go hungry in Britain”.
In a further development, Liz Dowler, one of the Warwickshire University academics who wrote the Government's own DEFRA study into food banks has come out in support of the End Hunger Fast campaign and backed the Living Wage as a solution, noting “food banks are not a long term solution, the quantities are too small and too piecemeal to meet systematic need.”
Keith Hebden, End Hunger Fast campaign spokesman and Parish Priest for Mansfield has been joined by a Grimsby Chaplain in his 40 day fast. Neither will eat any food for the whole of Easter and Lent to draw attention to the plight of the UK’s half a million hungry.
Keith Hebden, End Hunger Fast campaign spokesperson and Ekklesia associate, said: “Today is an exciting day, with so many different faith communities and sections of wider society uniting in the call to end UK hunger. We must stop and recognise the growing hunger in our midst.
“I hope others will join and fast for a day, a week or as long as they feel able, in solidarity with the half a million hungry Britons. This is a moral crisis, one we should lament as it calls us to act”
Simon Cross, a chaplain in Grimsby said:“In a country like ours, a rich country where ‘money is no object’ when it comes to rescuing flood victims, and where billions are spent on bailing out banks, it is a disgrace that so many people should be going hungry.
"In my local area the food bank has seen a 420 per cent increase in use since 2012, with 25 per cent of those accessing it being children. This utter scandal of hunger cannot be allowed to go unchecked.
“I will be joining Keith Hebden and eating no food for 40 days and 40 nights, to play my small part and add my voice to calls for the UK Government to act on hunger.”
Comedian Eddie Izzard said: “It's shocking to see just how quickly and widely foodbanks are springing up across [the] UK. It's unacceptable that in the 7th richest country on earth, hundreds of thousands of people would go hungry but for these local charities.
“When one in four families is cutting portion sizes and parents are skipping meals to feed their kids it's time to act. By fasting today I hope to play my part in drawing attention to this massive and growing issue.”
David McAuley, Trussell Trust Chief Executive said: “Seeing the impact that going hungry has on a mum who is at crisis point, and the additional stress and anxiety that it causes, compels us to act. Trussell Trust food banks are providing emergency food and support to hundreds of thousands of people in crisis, but more needs to be done to find ways to resolve the underlying causes of UK hunger. Myself and many of my colleagues will join End Hunger Fast's stand in solidarity with people in our communities who won't have a choice about whether they eat tonight. We hope it will place a spotlight on this issue so that practical solutions can be found to help stop UK hunger.”
Helen Drewery, General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness said: “Quakers are angry that such hunger and inequality exists in Britain. So I’ll be taking part in the fasting chain because I want to stand in solidarity with people who have no choice but to go hungry and because I think that the Government needs to take the issue of hunger more seriously."
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Michael Perham said: “Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline that brings us closer to God. By fasting on Thursday 6 March, it is also a witness to the issue of hunger in our world and my desire to address it.
“I would encourage others to fast in the most appropriate way this Lent. Not only is it a way of raising awareness of hunger in this country, but also a chance to help those in need, by either giving them the food you would have eaten or the money you would have spent on food during the fast.”
The Bishop of Warrington and Acting Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev Richard Blackburn, added: “The scandal of food poverty is something churches across our diocese tackle daily. End Hunger Fast is a wake-up call to society, politicians and leaders that we can no longer get away with tackling the symptoms of food poverty. Now is the time to properly protect the vulnerable from being failed by a society that should have resources to make sure no one goes hungry.”
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, an annual period of personal and social transformation in the Christian tradition.