- Christian leaders, MPs, celebrities and anti-poverty activists start 40 days of fasting
- New poll shows strength of public backing, as 70% say the Government should act immediately to stop people going hungry in Britain while 71% agree that rise of numbers needing food banks is “national disgrace”.
- Fasting relay launches; forty high profile faith leaders, celebrities and campaigners begin fasting for 24 or 48 hours and passing on a virtual baton.
- Keith Hebden, Mansfield Parish Priest joined by Grimsby Chaplain for first day of their 40 day and night no-food fast.
- Baptist and Evangelical leaders join Anglicans, Catholics and other non-conformist leaders in remarkable show of unity calling for action on welfare, wages and food markets as part of End Hunger Fast campaign as thousands fast for Lent.
Today, on Ash Wednesday, the Government faced a huge and growing call to take action on welfare, wages and food markets in the 2014 budget from End Hunger Fast.
The earlier letter from faith leaders, including 27 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” 
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 [Wednesday 5th] 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
- Rt Rev Michael Perham, the Bishop of Gloucester
- Rt Rev Nick Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury
- Rt Rev Stephen Platten, the Bishop of Wakefield
- 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% 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% 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 Governments own DEFRA study into food banks has come out in support of the End Hunger Fast campaign and backing 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.”
Priest fasting for 40 days joined by Grimsby Chaplain
Keith Hebden, End Hunger Fast campaign spokesman and Parish Priest for Mansfield has been joined by a Grimsby Chaplain in his 40 day fast. Both will not 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 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% increase in use since 2012, with 25% 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.”
Eddie Izzard, public figure and comedian said:
“It’s shocking to see just how quickly and widely foodbanks are springing up across 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
“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 Revd Richard Blackburn said:
“The scandal of food poverty is something churches across our diocese tackle daily. End Hunger Fast is a wakeup 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.”
Notes to editors
End Hunger Fast is calling for the Government to act immediately on welfare, wages and food markets and meet their duty of care to poor and vulnerable citizens.
– Welfare: half of all those going to food banks have been referred because of benefit delays and changes, including punitive sanctions. Regardless of changes to welfare policy and attempts to make savings, the welfare system must be there to stop people going hungry and must fulfil this mission.
– Living Wage: The majority of households in poverty and at risk from hunger are in work and 60% of them report cutting back on food to save money. Work should pay, the minimum wage and support for the Living Wage must be used to make sure of it.
– Food prices have gone up 30.5% in the last 5 years, way ahead of general inflation and way ahead of wages. At the same time the poorest among us have to pay 19% more for food in a poverty premium and more and more people are forced to buy cheap and unhealthy processed foods. Government should undertake a full review of British food markets to look at long term interventions to make them healthy, sustainable and affordable.