Tory MP: 'When I’ve worked in some poor communities, it’s been very important for them to be able to help one another.’

·4-min read
Tory MP Robin Millar said it's important that people living in poverty help each other. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

The headline to this story, first published on Oct 5th, was amended on Oct 19th.

A Tory MP has said people living in poverty should help each other cope with the cost-of-living crisis and that the state "can't catch everything".

At a discussion about poverty at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, MP for Aberconwy Robin Millar said there is “a huge importance in… [making sure we] don’t tell people who are in a disadvantaged state that they can’t help other people”.

The remarks came in response to a question by Yahoo News UK on what the role the state has during the cost-of-living crisis given lifelines like food banks are increasingly unable to meet the current surge in demand.

“When I’ve worked in some poor communities, it’s been very important for them to be able to help one another,” said Millar.

“And this is important when we think of the state being the last resort.

"What that assumes is that we’re all passive recipients of benefits or goodness… the state [should not steamroller] the individual human dignity that comes with helping others around us.”

Read more: Penny Mordaunt breaks ranks as she says benefits should rise with inflation

He also questioned whether the existence of food banks is “philosophically” a bad thing, arguing they provide communities with a way to support each other.

Millar said in his constituency had “multiple food banks” and that it had been “quite inspirational” to see them working during the pandemic.

“Frequently, we’re told: ‘There are food banks, that’s a damning indictment of the government’,” he said.

“But there’s a philosophical question there - about what is the balance of the role of community [versus]… state-led intervention.”

And while he insisted the state does have a role to play when it comes to supporting Brits on the lowest incomes, Millar said ultimately the state cannot “catch” everyone.

Tory MP Robin Millar made the remarks at an event labelled Winter is coming? How to tackle poverty in tough times hosted by Bright Blue and Christians Against Poverty. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

Appearing alongside him at the panel was Emma Revie, chief executive of food bank charity the Trussell Trust, who said that while the third sector can provide a lifeline, it is not enough.

“I think we need to hold our part of providing solutions as a third sector organisation,” she said.

“However what you will hear, if you speak to any volunteer in our food banks, is how inadequate a food parcel is in relation to the problem that people are presenting.”

Revie added: “For somebody who can't afford food, that means they're also really struggling with their heating bills, they're struggling to cover the cost of their accommodation, they're struggling to pay for their kid's school shoes, school trips - and a food parcel is not going to cut it.”

Gareth McNab from Christians Against Poverty also conceded that charities do have a role to play in supporting vulnerable groups - but said the third sector should not be the lifeline step from destitution.

“Wouldn't it be amazing if community spirit wasn't helping people survive, but was actually helping people thrive?” said McNab.

Read more: Suella Braverman Claims 'Benefits Street Culture' Still Exists Despite Cost Of Living Crisis

“Wouldn’t it be great if communities were coming together to celebrate the good in their community, rather than to make sure people don't die of hunger and cold?”

He added: “I think it’s just saying that, when it comes to the fundamentals of avoiding destitution, that's not something I want to my neighbour to feel a sense of responsibility for.”

It comes as the government faces backlash after it suggested welfare spending could be slashed to fund a spree of unfunded tax cuts it made in its mini-budget last month.

Among support on the chopping block is the uprating of benefits in line with inflation, with Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng refusing to honour former chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pledge to increase them by September's inflation in April.

The pair have not only faced condemnation from activists and charities, but are also facing a rebellion from their own MPs following reports they plan to slash welfare spending during a cost-of-living crisis.

Watch: Liz Truss says no decision has been made on cutting benefits