A Tory candidate has prompted anger by suggesting that people using food banks struggle with managing their budget.
Darren Henry was branded “utterly clueless” and lacking in compassion after making the remarks at a hustings in the Broxtowe constituency on Friday.
Drawing cries of shock and outrage from audience members, Mr Henry said: “When they go down to the food bank, what they struggle with is maybe being able to manage their budget.”
The proliferation of food banks, which were rare before the 2008 financial crash, has increased hugely under the Conservative government, with many experts and campaigners blaming austerity and policies such as universal credit for driving the surge in need.
Demand for food banks reached a record high in 2019, according to data from the UK’s largest provider the Trussell Trust.
More than 820,000 emergency food parcels were given out between April and September – 26 per cent higher than the number distributed during the same period in 2018. More than a third of the parcels went to children.
One recent study found food-bank users have an average of £7.10 per day (£50 a week) to live on after housing costs – a figure well below the official relative poverty threshold of £262 per week.
Speaking to Nottinghamshire voters, Mr Henry suggested food-bank users needed help understanding money and budgeting.
“A thing that can help them is how we can offer them some advice and support,” Mr Henry said. “When people are really, really down, and when people haven’t got the money, one of the things they can look to do is to get a payday loan or something like that.
“If I’m in parliament, as a private member’s bill, if I ever get the opportunity, one of the things I’d like to do is to try and stop payday loan advertising because that just makes the whole problem worse.
“What we need to do is to be able to support these people and helping them understand budgets and money is a really useful thing and it’s something we can bring into schools as well.”
A video showing only the first half of Mr Henry’s speech prompted outrage, in part because it cut short in a way that made it appear the candidate was endorsing payday loans, which was not the case.
Audience members can be heard heckling him in the footage – labelling them “disgusting” and “a disgrace”, while Green Party candidate Kat Boettge can be seen burying her face in her hands.
“He’s utterly clueless and lacks the understanding and compassion to be an MP,” said Anna Soubry, a former Tory minister seeking re-election in Broxtowe as an Independent Group for Change candidate.
“Broxtowe’s food banks work with our excellent Citizens Advice centre and help struggling families with debt and welfare claims.”
Charities working on the front line have frequently criticised the five-week wait associated with universal credit as driving many people to food-bank use.
In response to data showing record food bank use in September, Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said the charity’s own data showed some people on universal credit were losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food, heating and housing.
“Universal credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty,” said Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie. “But the five-week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.”
Labour Party chair Ian Lavery criticised Mr Henry’s remarks, saying: “The Conservatives have no answers to the poverty they have caused in our communities.
“It shows how out of touch the Tories are that they think the way to tackle the surge in food bank use is to stop adverts for payday loan companies.”
Additional reporting by PA
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