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Food Bank - Copyright Jeff Blacker / REX
UK News

Church leaders blast government on food poverty as figures soar

Forty bishops and over 600 church leaders and clergy from across all the major Christian denominations in Britain have co-signed a new letter calling for urgent government action on food poverty.

The letter comes as new statistics from foodbank charity Trussell Trust reveals over 900,000 people received three days of emergency food aid in the past 12 months, nearly triple the number helped in the previous year and the biggest rise in use ever recorded by the organisation.

The church-backed network has blamed the government's "benefits sanctions" for the rise in figures, which it says have become "increasingly harsh", resulting in even more people being referred to them for emergency food, with half of all referrals to foodbanks in 2013-14 because of benefit delays or changes.

Letter signatories include the Archbishop of Wales and leaders from every major Christian denomination in the UK; Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical Alliance, Methodist, Baptist and United Reform Church. 

The letter calls the situation "shocking" and asks the Government to "commit fully to the independent inquiry on the rise of UK hunger"

The Bishop of Bangor, Rt Revd Andy John, told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour why he signed the letter and why he thinks the latest statistics are only reflecting part of the problem.

However, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson claims the coalition's reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families by "helping people to lift themselves out of poverty" and pointed to the employment rate, saying it was the "highest it's been for five years".

In a statement to Premier, the DWP said: "Even the OECD say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, benefit processing times are improving and even the Trussell Trust's own research recognises the effect their marketing activity has on the growth of their business."

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics out today show pay rises have outstripped increases in the cost of living for the first time in four years, while a record 30.3 million people are in work. Unemployment in the UK fell by 77,000 in the three months to February, to a five year low.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's name doesn't appear on the letter but a Lambeth Palace spokesman told Premier that is in keeping with a longstanding convention that Church of England Archbishops never sign open letters due to the high volume of requests received.

He added that Most Revd Justin Welby "supports the right of bishops" to speak out about matters affecting the local community.

Copies of the letter are also being delivered to the constituency offices of Prime Minister David Cameron; Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg by three Christian leaders, who have been fasting for 40 days over Easter and Lent.

Mansfield Parish Priest Keith Hebden; Grimsby Chaplain Simon Cross, and Catholic Missionary Scott Albrecht will be joined by local bishops, vicars and food bank volunteers in a show of support.

End Hunger Fast supporters are also planning a vigil including speeches and a symbolic breaking of bread outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday evening to mark the completion of its Easter and Lent fast to draw attention to UK hunger.

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