A campaign to tackle hunger in the UK has been stepped up as new figures revealed a huge increase in the amount of emergency supplies being handed out from foodbanks.

The Trussell Trust said its centres gave out three days' emergency food in excess of 600,000 times between April and December last year, more than in the entire previous financial year.

Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam estimated that more than half a million people were helped by food banks in 2012/13.

The statistics were published as 20 charities called on the Government to act on the "national crisis" of "hunger returning to Britain".

An open letter has been published by charities including Oxfam and the Child Poverty Action Group, saying the Government should do more to stop people going hungry.

Faith leaders, celebrities and campaigners will start fasting today, Ash Wednesday, in solidarity with those going hungry.

End Hunger Fast campaign spokesman Keith Hebden said: "Today is an exciting day, with so many different faith communities and sections of wider society uniting in the call to end UK hunger. We must stop and recognise the growing hunger in our midst.

"I hope others will join and fast for a day, a week or as long as they feel able, in solidarity with the half a million hungry Britons. This is a moral crisis, one we should lament as it calls us to act."

Simon Cross, a chaplain in Grimsby, said: "In a country like ours, a rich country where 'money is no object' when it comes to rescuing flood victims, and where billions are spent on bailing out banks, it is a disgrace that so many people should be going hungry.

"In my local area the food bank has seen a 420% increase in use since 2012, with 25% of those accessing it being children. This utter scandal of hunger cannot be allowed to go unchecked."

Comedian Eddie Izzard said: " It's shocking to see just how quickly and widely foodbanks are springing up across UK.

"It's unacceptable that in the 7th richest country on earth hundreds of thousands of people would go hungry but for these local charities.

"When one in four families is cutting portion sizes and parents are skipping meals to feed their kids, it's time to act. By fasting today I hope to play my part in drawing attention to this massive and growing issue."

Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley said: " Trussell Trust foodbanks are providing emergency food and support to hundreds of thousands of people in crisis, but more needs to be done to find ways to resolve the underlying causes of UK hunger.

"Myself and many of my colleagues will join End Hunger Fast's stand in solidarity with people in our communities who won't have a choice about whether they eat tonight.

"We hope it will place a spotlight on this issue so that practical solutions can be found to help stop UK hunger."

A Government spokesperson said: "The Government has taken action to help families with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000 which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, freezing council tax for five years and freezing fuel duty.

"The only sustainable way to make people better off and give them a more secure future is to stick to the Government's long-term economic plan."