CHURCH vicars are increasingly being asked for help by hungry parishioners, the Bishop of Durham has claimed.

The Right Reverend Paul Butler spoke out as ministers sought to brush off new figures revealing more than 900,000 people turned to foodbanks for emergency relief in the past 12 months – a near three-fold increase on the previous year.

Bishop Butler, a former social worker, said: “Clergy have told me of increased requests directly from parishioners struggling to make ends meet.”

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And, having joined dozens of bishops and hundreds of faith leaders in signing an open letter demanding the Government take urgent action, he urged: “This is a reality and not a problem that will easily be solved – but solve it, we must.”

Yesterday (Tuesday, April 15), the Trussell Trust, which runs 400 foodbanks nationwide, reported a 463 per cent year-on-year rise in demand across the North-East.

Bishop Butler said that many families were facing the “terrible reality” of empty cupboards was deeply challenging and raised acute moral, social and political questions.

Speaking of a recent visit to a Hartlepool foodbank, he said the number of children in need was shocking.

One foodbank user from Brandon said she had asked for help having been forced to leave a stable life and move to care for her father and his partner.

“We have now been housed by Durham County Council, found help and guidance through places like foodbank. Without this help until benefits are resolved and wages for new jobs are paid, we would not be able to survive,” she added.

The faith leaders’ letter, published today, calls food poverty a “national crisis” and comes just two months after 27 bishops said Prime Minister David Cameron had a moral duty to act on the growing number going hungry.

The Department for Works and Pensions has tried to dismiss the foodbank figures as unclear and misleading, but Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said they told the “shocking truth” of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis and said ministers needed to get a grip.

Tonight, campaign End Hunger Fast staged a rally and vigil outside Parliament.