A Tory MP is facing calls to apologise and claiming there is no “massive use” of foodbanks in the UK and that those who rely on their help do so because “they cannot cook properly”.
Tory MP Lee Anderson made the cruel remarks during the second day of debate in the House of Commons on the Queen’s Speech.
The MP for Ashford & Eastwood invited MPs to visit a foodbank in his constituency to “see the brilliant scheme we have got in place where when people come now for a food parcel, they have to register for a budgeting course and a cooking course.”
He added: “And what we do in the food bank, we show them how to cook cheap and nutritious meals on a budget. We can make a meal for about 30 pence a day. And this is cooking from scratch.”
Infuriated, Labour MP Alex Cunningham asked: “Should it be necessary to have food banks in 21st century Britain?”
Anderson replied: “He makes a great point and this is exactly my point. So, I invite you personally to come to Ashfield, look at our food bank, how it works and I think you will see first hand that there’s not this massive use for food banks in this country but generation after generation who cannot cook properly, they can’t cook a meal from scratch.
“They cannot budget. The challenge is there. Come, come. I’ll offer anybody.”
His comments were immediately condemned by SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who told the Tory MP: “All of us have food banks in our constituency.
“We don’t really need to visit his because we’re perfectly well aware of the requirement for them.
“But the requirement for them is not because people don’t know how to cook. It’s because we have poverty in this country at a scale that should shame his government.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Minister. Karen Buck MP, said: “In the world where people actually live we now hear daily stories of families going without food and others unable to turn their ovens on in fear of rising energy bills.
“The idea that the problem is cooking skills and not 12 years of government decisions that are pushing people into extreme poverty is beyond belief. Out of touch doesn’t even cover it.”
Speaking after the debate, SNP MP Kirsty Blackman said Anderson’s comments were “reprehensible” and demonstrate how the Tories are “out of touch” with the reality faced by many low-income households.
“Families are being hammered by a Tory-made cost-of-living crisis and instead of stepping up and delivering urgent support, the Tories are dismissing their hardship with crass comments,” she said.
“The reality is that people are being left with no choice but to turn to foodbanks and make the impossible choice between eating and heating because of Tory inaction over the cost-of-living crisis which is spiralling out of control on the UK Government’s watch.”
The UK’s largest foodbank network, Trussell Trust, distributed over 2.1 million food parcels between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022, which is a 13% increase on the previous year.
In a statement outside the chamber, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions spokeswoman Wendy Chamberlain said: “These comments are disgraceful and an insult to millions of hard-working people who are struggling to put food on the table for their family through no fault of their own.
“Lee Anderson should apologise straight away for his shameful remarks.”
Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group’s chief executive, said: “Four million children are living in poverty in the UK, and it’s not because their parents can’t cook.
“There are few households better at budgeting than those on a low income, they have to do it every single day.
“Rather than insulting parents who have no option but to use foodbanks in the face of soaring costs and real terms income cuts, politicians would do better to back real-world solutions, like bringing benefits in line with inflation this autumn.”
However, Tory MP Ben Bradley came to his colleague’s defence tonight. “I think there is always a risk inevitably in politics where people generalise,” he told Nottinghamshire live.
“And people take Lee’s comments about a small group of people, and there is a cycle, he is absolutely right, about a small number, or a large number really, but a minority, of families and generations of poor education, poor basic skills around cooking and budgeting.
If you don’t know as a parent how to do things and you find that cycle of poverty and it is important to break into that at some stage with the kind of education Lee is talking about.
“You are not going to be able to level up or break into that cycle of poverty if you don’t be honest about that and if you don’t tackle that.
“There is a risk of generalisation and every time I make a comment in a similar vein someone from the Labour Party says you’re talking about all people on benefits or you’re talking about all people who are poor of disadvantaged.
“That’s not to say there isn’t a problem with inflation, there isn’t a problem with the cost of living, that’s not what Lee has said either. Clearly there is a squeeze and clearly people are feeling it and clearly there is more Government can do. Government have said they can do more.
“But there is also an educational issue about how to look after yourself, how to look after your family, how to budget, how to make your money go further.
That is not new or about inflation, it is not about current circumstances, it is a long-term issue that is the reason some families in places like Mansfield and Ashfield go round cycles and generation after generation of worklessness and of poverty.”
New research published by The Food Foundation earlier this week revealed a 57% rise in the proportion of UK households forced to cut back on food or miss meals entirely.
The Foundation said families are experiencing increasing pressure on incomes because of the rise in energy bills, petrol prices and background inflation, as well as the ever-rising cost of food.