Tory MP Paul Maynard suggests food banks could become a 'habit' for people in poverty

Comments made by Blackpool MP described as 'inaccurate' and 'demeaning people with dignity'

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The Independent Online

A Conservative MP has come under criticism for "demeaning" comments after suggesting people may visit food banks out of habit, using handouts rather than taking responsibility for their own welfare.

Paul Maynard, who works for Minister of State Oliver Letwin, was speaking at a food poverty summit in Manchester.

He told the audience: “I value personal responsibility. My main concern for the immediate future is that people have the most money in their pockets as possible," reported the Manchester Evening News.

The MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys went on: “I do not believe that immediate food relief should be the role of the government. We can’t make food banks part of the welfare state.

“What I don’t want to do is normalise food poverty.

“In Canada you have people going to food banks every week and it can become a habit. But there is more government can do.

“We work with supermarkets who push up prices by rejecting funny-shaped fruit and vegetables – I’d like to see them sold cheaply in local shops.

“It’s not about subverting the markets, it’s about getting supermarkets to think more about what they do.”

Chris Mould, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, told the Independent: “Comments like these are unhelpful because they paint a false picture. Food banks are not a drop in service, you can’t just come along because you feel like some free food.

"Vouchers are signed by front line professionals, people the public trust.  My message to MPs who make comments like this is: before you speak find out what it’s like to face an immediate financial crisis, to be under this enormous pressure. You can wander round with your head in the clouds or you can look at the situation and see the millions of people who are struggling.

"These comments are demeaning to people who have substantial dignity and are also inaccurate. Our model of helping people in crisis is designed to support people long term. We work in partnership with a number of statutory services to which we refer people on to help solve the underlying issues.  I have huge confidence in the generosity of the British public who donate this food. They see through these comments and know what the reality really is. They’ve seen neighbours or family members struggle.

Mr Mould explained that a person can only be given three vouchers, each of which provide provide three days of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. The vouchers are given out by job centres, doctors and  social workers. He said they have to system in place to alert them if someone comes in with a fourth voucher.  He said the average amount a person uses their service in a year is less than three times, showing “people are not reliant, they have not developed a habit.”

Mr Maynard came under fire on Twitter too, with users of the microblogging site, calling his comments “disgraceful” and “out of touch”. He is not the first MP to provoke anger with comments about food banks however, with Michael Gove suggesting that families often had to use food banks because they were not budgeting properly.

A record number of people have used food banks in the past year, with the numbers expected to rise in the wake of the government's welfare reforms.