Food banks are here to stay, the Archbishop of York has warned as Britain grapples with a "new and terrible" growth in levels of poverty.
Dr John Sentamu, who the Church of England's second most senior cleric, spoke of his shock at reading of a rise in hospital admissions for malnutrition and food poverty within his own diocese, a phenomenon he described as "dark stain on our consciences."
He said the need for Church action was now more urgent than ever as "hard-pressed" people found they were on a "down escalator" in life.
By contrast, he said, annual salaries of chief executives of Britain's 100 largest companies reached an average of £4.3 million last year.
"Unlike the chief executives, many hard-pressed people find that they are on a 'down escalator'. That phrase captures more than just a shortage of money - it adds a sense of descending the social scale," Dr Sentamu said in a presidential address to the General Synod of the Church of England.
"Formerly each new generation enjoyed a higher standard of living than the previous one. That was the 'progress' that everybody was taught to expect. It was a source of hope. But now the gains are being reversed."
Dr Sentamu said Britain was facing "hard economic facts" that wage rises were likely to continue lagging behind price rises owing to global competition and job losses through high-tech advances.
"Food banks aren't going to go away any time soon," Dr Sentamu said. "Prices are rising more than three times faster than wages."
He added that the impact of the Government's welfare reforms was "beginning to bite" through measures such as the so-called bedroom tax and benefits cap.
Dr Sentamu, who has campaigned for a "Living Wage" of £8.55 a hour in London and £7.45 elsewhere, said the minimum wage had risen by just 12 pence an hour to £6.19 on October 1.
He said he had read of a trebling of the numbers of people being admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition.
He added that the local press had reported that more than 4,000 people were recorded as living in food poverty in North Yorkshire alone during the past six months.
These examples, he said, "disgrace us all and leave a dark stain on our consciences."