Britain faces food poverty ‘national crisis’ because of Government welfare reforms, bishops warn

According to group of 27 Anglican church leaders, ‘punitive’ cutbacks leave too many people choosing between food and heating

Failures in the benefits system and a “punitive” set of Government cutbacks to welfare have left Britain with a food poverty “national crisis”, according to a group of church leaders.

In an open letter condemning David Cameron’s benefit reforms, 27 Anglican bishops said ministers had a moral duty to do more to protect those having to choose between “heating or eating”.

The bishops, who included those of Oxford, Gloucester, Newcastle and Manchester, pointed to figures showing that 5,500 people were admitted to hospital for malnutrition in the UK last year, while records show half a million were forced to visit food banks.

In the letter, marking the beginning of Lent on 5 March and published in the Daily Mirror, the bishops said the figures were unacceptable for “the world’s seventh largest economy”.

They wrote: “We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must 'heat or eat' each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30 per cent in just five years.

“We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”

They added: “We call on government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”

Responding to the bishops' calls, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: “This letter should be a wake-up call to David Cameron.

“His Government's policies are making life harder for families with a cost-of-living crisis making workers £1,600 worse off and the bedroom tax forcing hundreds of thousands to food bank.

“This Tory-led Government's welfare reforms have penalised, rather than helped, those doing the right thing.”

The letter was signed by 27 of the Church of England’s 59 bishops, alongside 16 other faith leaders including the Quakers and Methodists.

It comes as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign, also supported by the Trussell Trust, which calls for a national day of fasting “ in sympathy with the half a million hungry Britons”.

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