THE Bishop of Chelmsford has criticised Prime Minister David Cameron for his “scandalous” welfare reforms.

The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell joined 26 Anglican bishops and 16 other clergymen in signing an open a letter to Mr Cameron.

They said benefit cuts had caused a national crisis.

The letter said 500,000 people had visited food banks across Britain in the past year, and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital last year due to malnutrition.

Rev Cottrell said: “Food banks provide a fantastic service, but it is scandalous, in our society, that we should need a single food bank, let alone hundreds of them.

“It feels to me we areamore divided society than even a year ago and that troubles me deeply.”

The letter, written as part of the national End Hunger Fast campaign, was signed by 27 of the 59 Church of England bishops.

It said Mr Cameron had an “acute moral imperative” to take action to help hungry families.

Latest figures suggest 818,000 benefit claimants across the country have had their payments docked because of changes which were introduced in October 2012.

Reforms include the spare room subsidy, dubbed the bedroom tax by campaigners, and a cap on the total amount of benefits any household can receive.

John McKay, 64, runs a food bank at Lee Chapel North Community Centre in Ballards Walk, Laindon.

He has seen a 30 per cent increase in needy people coming through the door since January this year.

Mr McKay said: “Two or three years ago, food banks were just something the churches did, but it has really changed since the welfare reforms.

“We see people all the time who have had their benefits cut or stopped altogether, been hit by the bedroom tax, or in work, but on a real low income. That's when they need to turn to food banks.

“The Government needs to take stock of just how much impact the welfare reforms are having.”