A Conservative MP faces calls to apologise after suggesting people in the UK use food banks because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.
Ashfield MP, Lee Anderson, invited “everybody” on the opposition benches in the House of Commons to visit a food bank in Ashfield, Notts, where, when people come for a food parcel, they now need to register for a “budgeting course” and a “cooking course”.
When asked by a Labour MP if it should be necessary to have food banks in 21st century Britain, Mr Anderson said there is not “this massive use for food banks” in the UK, but “generation after generation who cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.
His comments, which came during the second day of the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons, have been harshly criticised, with some urging the Ashfield MP to apologise.
Labour branded his remarks “beyond belief”, whilst 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”.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West), the subsequent speaker in the Commons debate, told Mr Anderson people do not use food banks because they do not know how to cook, but because “we have poverty in this country at a scale that should shame his Government”.
Mr Anderson said: “My invitation is to everybody on that side of the House, come to Ashfield and work with me for a day in my food bank and 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.
“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.”
Intervening, Labour MP, Alex Cunningham (Stockton North), asked: “Should it be necessary to have food banks in 21st century Britain?”
Mr 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.”
Responding to Mr Anderson’s food banks comments, shadow work and pensions minister, Karen Buck, 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.”
Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokeswoman, Wendy Chamberlain, said in a statement outside the Commons: “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.”
SNP work and pensions spokeswoman, Kirsty Blackman, said: “These comments from a Tory MP that people who use foodbanks do so because they don’t know how to cook or budget are reprehensible, but they also highlight how out of touch this broken Tory Government is with ordinary people.”
Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group’s chief executive, said: “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.”
Similarly, TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said that “rather than being condescending, Conservative politicians should be putting pressure on the Chancellor to call an emergency budget”.