Lee Anderson has played down “this poverty nonsense”, insisting the UK is the best country in the world and there was “real poverty” in the 1970s.
The Conservative Party deputy chairman also defended his position and previous comments on food poverty, saying when he was young “we didn’t go on TikTok or Facebook or moan and say: ‘I’ve got no food'”, adding that his family’s philosophy was: “They’re our kids, we’ll feed them.”
He was speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester hosted by Conservative Home and UK In A Changing Europe, and appeared to row back at the end of the event on the validity of making comparisons with the 1970s.
Referencing the pandemic, Mr Anderson said: “We’re two years behind, I think, on delivering what we promised to deliver, but I think now we’re on the right track.”
He went on: “It’s still the best country in the world, there’s plenty of jobs, people have got money. I don’t believe all this nonsense about, you know, you know my stance on the food poverty stuff…
“This poverty nonsense. Go in a time machine back into when I was growing up in the 70s, that was real poverty… It’s nonsense now, it’s absolute nonsense.
“Yeah things are tough, things are difficult for families, people are struggling to budget sometimes, but this is not an impoverished island. This is a wealthy country and the countries they are limitless in the UK, if you want something you can go and get it.
“You need to get off your arse and go and get it for yourself.”
Speaking later in the event, he said he was able to say things that other Tory MPs have not, referencing his own hardships growing up and his previous jobs, including as a coal miner.
He said: “Our food bank was my dad’s garden.
“When we’d not got enough food at the end of week we had to go down and pull some potatoes out and cabbages and go and get a chicken and that was our Sunday dinner. It’s as simple as that.
“We didn’t go on TikTok or Facebook or moan and say: ‘I’ve got no food,’ because my mum and dad’s philosophy was simple: ‘They’re our kids, we’ll feed them.’ That’s how I was brought up.
“So when I talk about food poverty … and the 30p meals and all that sort of stuff, I’m speaking about that from a position of strength – I’ve been there, I’ve done it.”
But he appeared to row back on the remarks later in the event, saying: “I think it’s probably an unfair comparison just comparing life now to what it was in the 70s, although I do do it sometimes.”
Mr Anderson also suggested the benefits system can be “a little bit too nice”.
He was also asked about the Government’s policy on getting the economically inactive back into work, and what if anything is going wrong with that policy.
The MP said: “Sometimes we’re a little bit too nice. You know, I think it should be stick and carrot, I think there should be maybe greater rewards for going back to work … but I think you can live far too comfortably sometimes in this country without putting a shift in.”
He spoke about working for a Labour MP earlier in his career around 2012, describing a case of a family claiming benefits with several children, adding “they’ve got these children on ADHD, I don’t believe a lot of that, I think some of it’s just bad parenting”.
He warned the children would then grow up thinking they cannot work, with the MP saying: “I think sometimes we’ve got to be a little bit braver and say to those young people, you are not disabled, you can go to work, we’re going to help you, we’re going to support you.
“But why have we got a system in place which encourages parents to, sometimes – not all parents, obviously – but encourages certain parents to make extra money by labelling their kids as disabled?”
Mr Anderson, who has a second job as a GB News presenter, was also asked if he felt uncomfortable about an exchange on the channel between Laurence Fox and Dan Wootton about a female journalist.
Mr Anderson said he had not seen the clip, has “no intentions” of doing so, but said he had heard about it, adding: “I think it’s wrong what they said.”
He also defended his second job at GB News, saying as a result he pays around £85,000 in tax which contributes to public services.
The MP also criticised junior doctors for striking, saying: “Personally, I think they should be ashamed of themselves, people are dying.”
He added: “They bang on about they’ve lost 35% of their wages in the last 13 or 14 years, why didn’t they moan about it 13 years ago?”
When it was pointed out they would not have lost the money, he said: “Well, five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago – because it’s all on the back of these strikes that are going on to try and bring the Government down.”
Elsewhere in the event, the MP said: “I always think a dictator is a good idea, if they’re a good dictator, but there’s no good dictators is there really. I think Jesus might have been one, but it’s not.
“In a perfect world you would have a brilliant man who would make all the rules and be fair to everybody … but we don’t.”