Leading clergymen in Gloucestershire have joined in a blistering attack on Government welfare reforms.
Bishop of Gloucester the Rt Revd Michael Perham and Bishop of Tewkesbury the Rt Revd Martyn Snow have added their names to an open letter calling on the Tory-Lib Dem coalition to do more to tackle hardship and hunger.
In the letter to the Daily Mirror, signed by 41 religious leaders across the country, they said Prime Minister David Cameron had a “moral duty” to act now to alleviate the suffering of millions.
It said: “Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry.
“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.”
The letter points out that half a million people have visited food banks since last Easter while 5,500 were admitted to hospital in the UK with malnutrition last year.
It goes on: “One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards.
“This is a national crisis and one we must rise to.
“We call on government to do its part, acting to investigate food markets that fail to make sure work pays and ensure the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”
The Diocese of Gloucester is supporting the End Hunger Fast campaign throughout Lent, from March 5 to April 17.
Gloucester Cathedral will host a 40-day prayer space with creative displays where people can get information on coping with poverty.
There will also be a 24-hour vigil on April 6 to pray for those facing poverty.
Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, said he felt it was important to put his name to the open letter.
“We cannot simply sit back while people struggle to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “By backing End Hunger Fast, both Bishop Michael and I hope to raise awareness of how everyone can tackle this issue in a practical way.”
A spokesman for No 10 defended its welfare policies.
“Of course many families are facing tough times as a result of the worst recession in a century,” he said.
“That’s why our welfare reforms are about building a country where people are not trapped in a cycle of dependency but can stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves.”