Food for thought: Austerity Chancellor George Osborne admits he has never visited a foodbank

Nor has Lord Freud - the Welfare Reform minister for the past three years
  • @NigelpMorris

George Osborne was accused tonight of being out of touch after he admitted never having visited a food bank.

The Chancellor came under pressure from MPs over the soaring numbers of people being forced to resort to hand-outs to feed their families.

He insisted the use of food banks was increasing because their services were being advertised in Jobcentres.

But asked by Labour's Teresa Pearce whether he had seen one in operation, Mr Osborne paused before answering: "No, I have not visited a food bank."

Ms Pearce said afterwards: "The Prime Minister has been to one and most people have helped out at a food bank, but for the Chancellor, it seemed irrelevant to him."

Lord Freud, the Welfare Reform minister, made the same admission today.

It emerged that the Government peer, who has also questioned whether there is a link between increasing food bank use and cuts to benefits, has never visited one of the hundreds around the country in his three years in the post.

The Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, said in a Commons answer: "The Minister for Welfare Reform has not visited any food banks since 2010. Food banks are not part of the welfare system."

Luciana Berger, the MP who obtained the answer, said: "The Minister needs to wise up. There is a clear link between food bank referrals and benefits problems -particularly delays. Staff and volunteers have told me this during the many visits I have made to food banks."

Mr Osborne also disclosed today that married couples are to be given tax breaks for first time since the 1980s as part of changes to be announced by the Government in the autumn.

David Cameron has pledged measures to support marriage through the tax system ever since he was elected Conservative Party leader in 2005.

But their omission from the four budgets since the Coalition came to power has led many to speculate that they were being blocked by the Chancellor George Osborne. He is said to be sceptical that giving such additional tax benefits are a sensible use of scare public sector funds.

But speaking to journalists yesterday Mr Osborne said he was personally committed to the tax break and would put forward details in his autumn statement later this year.

"I have always been committed to introducing a married couples' tax break," he said. "David Cameron campaigned to be leader on that promise and I was his campaign manager.

"I am absolutely committed to introducing it, the Government is committed to introducing it and I think you can expect to see it in the Autumn Statement."

At the election the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg ridiculed the plans as "patronising drivel that belong in the Edwardian age".