Keith Hebden, a priest who has helped develop the project, reflects for us on what the Fast is about.
As the End Hunger Fast campaign has gathered momentum it’s been a steep learning curve for me. Through their hard work and compassion, volunteers at food banks up and down the country have come into contact with their neighbour at her or his most vulnerable, and rediscovered just how broken down our social security system is.
John’s gospel famously reads that “God so loved the world”, but the Greek word for world – cosmos – is more like our word ‘system’ than any reference to a planet or the people on it. And if we want to know exactly what’s wrong with a system we don’t go first to analysts in Whitehall or preachers in their pulpits – we go to the people who are at the sharp end of that broken system: those who are hungry, or homeless, or otherwise repelled from it.
At a meeting with Anglican clergy in South Nottingham recently, I was struck by one priest’s observations regarding the Department of Work and Pensions’ dysfunctional approach to people as ‘targets’. Through working at the food bank, he had discovered that the greatest need for support came in fortnightly cycles due to a regular surge in those sanctioned for not finding work.
Why these peaks and troughs? Because every two weeks the local benefits office would be measured according to their targets: they must sanction a minimum number of people. And because, in the normal run of things, they didn’t get near that target, they had to rush at it at the end of each cycle.
Clearly then, people were being sanctioned, not because they were failing to meet the criteria for being ‘job seekers’, but because the system requires them to fail.
Because failure of people, in our broken system, is a measurement of the success of the welfare system. Ludicrous but true.
End Hunger Fast has a set of broad ambitions: a robust welfare state, jobs that pay, and a food system that puts people before profits. These ambitions are as broad as they are complex and they’ll require more listening to one another and to God.
I hope that End Hunger Fast will be an instrumental step in this listening. By fasting we draw closer to God and to our neighbour.
In doing this we’ll discover that our neighbour is hungry and our God is heartbroken about our moral failure in supporting and encouraging our fellow human being.
I’ve never been very good at fasting. I know plenty of people who are. But I’m angry enough about this that I’m going to do it. What’s more, inspired by the compassion of people of faith and of good faith, all around me, I’m going to fast for 40 days: a glass of fruit juice each morning and then water throughout the day.
You’re invited to join me by committing whatever form of fast you keep to be a pledge to your neighbour in need. Sign up at endhungerfast.co.uk and tell everyone you know. Let’s love the system into salvation, not just for the sake of this age but also the generations to come.
Church Action on Poverty is supporting the End Hunger Fast. If you take part, you can use your fast to raise funds for our work to tell the stories of people going hungry. Visit our website to find out more about our campaign to tackle hunger.