A 40-day campaign to draw attention to the increasing number of people going hungry in the U.K. led by “End Hunger Fast” a coalition of 20 anti-poverty charities including Oxfam, Trussell Trust, Child Poverty Action Group, Just Fair, several Church groups, Members of Parliament, celebrities and anti-poverty activists, was formally launched here on Wednesday. “Hunger has returned to Britain, with more and more people just one unexpected bill from empty cupboards,” the group said in an open letter published in the London Times on Wednesday. Calling the rise in hunger a “terrible social failing,” the letter said, “One in five mothers is skipping meals to better feed their children, one in four families are shrinking portion size and over 60% have cut the amount they spend on food in order to get by. Hospitals are seeing increasing numbers of people who are malnourished.”

It identified three crises as being responsible – food prices, which have risen 30 per cent in five years, wages that have fallen in real terms, and the benefit system, which has become “increasingly punitive in the use of sanctions.”

The campaign, which calls on the government to take action on welfare, wages and food markets in the 2014 budget, will see a form of protest common enough in India but unusual in the U.K. A fasting relay has begun where high profile faith leaders, celebrities and campaigners fast for 24 hours each. Comedian Eddie Izzard set off the fast on day one. The campaign has also invited the public to fast “in solidarity with the thousands of Britons going hungry and in calling on the Government to take action.”

Keith Hebden, End Hunger Fast campaign spokesperson said:

“It is an exciting day, with so many different faith communities and sections of wider society uniting in the call to end U.K. hunger…this is a moral crisis, one we should lament as it calls us to act.” According to new statistics released by the food-bank charity Trussell Trust, their food banks gave out three days’ emergency food over 600,000 times between April and December 2013, which is 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 independent and Trussell Trust food banks helped a total of over 500,000 people in 2012-13.

Chris Mould, Executive Chairman of Trussell Trust said: “We’re seeing people from all kinds of backgrounds turning to food banks: working people coming in on their lunch-breaks, mums who are going hungry to feed their children, people whose benefits have been delayed and people who are struggling to find enough work. It’s shocking that people are going hungry in 21st century Britain.”

It is estimated that one in five Britons are in poverty. Concerns over the rise in food bank attendance have sharpened in recent weeks. A letter by 27 Anglican Bishops to the government criticised it for not doing enough to address the problem. The government then published a report on food provisioning that confirmed that the rise in food banks was demand-led. The All-Party Parliamentary Group of Hunger and Food Poverty has announced that it will set up a formal inquiry.

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