A minister has distanced the Government from controversial comments made by a Tory MP facing a backlash for suggesting some food bank users “cannot cook properly”.
Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, caused outrage on Wednesday after telling the House of Commons that “generation after generation” of people “cannot budget” or make meals properly.
Asked on Thursday on Sky News about the remarks, justice minister Victoria Atkins said they were “not right”.
“This is not the view of me or anyone else in Government. We want to give not just immediate help but longer-term support as well,” she said.
The MP for Louth and Horncastle added that she believed Mr Anderson’s position may have been misinterpreted.
She said she thought he had been referring specifically to his local food bank, which he had praised for providing longer-term help as well as emergency resources.
But responding to a suggestion by presenter Kay Burley that Mr Anderson had effectively accused people of using food banks to get a “ready meal” because “they can’t be bothered cooking”, Ms Atkins said: “Yeah, that’s not right and that’s absolutely not right.
“I’ve spent my ministerial career working with very vulnerable people … cooking lessons will not be the complete solution to that.”
The Prime Minister refused to say whether he agreed with the remarks when asked about them after a Cabinet meeting in Staffordshire but described the problem of child hunger as “totally unacceptable”.
Asked whether he thought Mr Anderson was right to have made the comments, Boris Johnson said: “The best answer for the problems of kids going hungry, which is in my view totally unacceptable, and of families not able to get the meals they need is to do all the support that we’re giving and as I’ve said we’ll use maximum ingenuity and compassion throughout this period”.
Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday, Mr Anderson doubled down on his remarks, saying he was being criticised for “talking common sense”.
“The point I was trying to make is that I think the actual food bank usage is exaggerated,” he said.
“I work with a local food bank in Ashfield and they’ve got a wonderful initiative where, when people come to the food bank, they’re given a food package but they have to enrol on a cooking course and a budgeting course – that’s the deal.”
Mr Anderson said he and a group of fellow MPs undertook a challenge with a local chef to feed a family of five for £50 a week.
He added: “The point I was trying to make is that, yes, we’ve got lots of food banks but, actually, if we get to the real nub of the problem in a lot of cases, then there are generations of people out there that simply haven’t got the skills to budget properly and to go shopping and do a proper weekly shop like we used to back in the day, and use of fresh ingredients to make nutritious meals.”
Mr Anderson said that while there are “always genuine people staying in need”, many would benefit from the “right help and the right support and the right education”.
Asked why he is being criticised, he said: “Because I’m talking common sense – it’s as simple as that, you know.”
Mr Anderson said he is getting a lot of supportive emails, adding: “The left will obviously jump on this.
“The mainstream media will jump on this because at the moment all we’re hearing in the chamber is food bank use is on the up.”
Mr Anderson also shared on Facebook a link to a YouTube video of the “batch cooking sessions” in his constituency, adding: “I make no apologies for trying to help people fend for themselves by helping them learn the skills they need.”
It comes after he hit back at the reporting of his comments, writing on Facebook: “Gutter Press Again.
“I did not say poor people cannot cook or there is no need for food banks. I said there is not the need currently being parrotted out by the MSM (mainstream media).”
Labour branded Mr Anderson’s remarks “beyond belief”, the Liberal Democrats described them as “disgraceful”, and the SNP said they were “crass”.
The Child Poverty Action Group claimed politicians “would do better to back real-world solutions, like bringing benefits in line with inflation this autumn”, and the Trussell Trust charity insisted “cooking meals from scratch won’t help families keep the lights on or put food on the table, if they don’t have enough money in their pockets”.
The Trades Union Congress insisted the comments showed “how out of touch Conservative MPs and ministers are with the cost-of-living emergency”.