The growing number of food banks in Britain should be a source of national shame, not an excuse to blame users. And yet it’s astonishing that Conservative MPs are still doing exactly that.
In the House of Commons, during a debate, the MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, said: "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."
Let me put this in context. In 2010, just under 41,000 Britons received three days’ worth of emergency food from a food bank. By 2021, that number had reached 2.5 million. And it wasn’t due to the pandemic either – nearly 2 million people had needed help from a food-bank before Covid-19.
So how does Anderson explain it? Does he think Britons suddenly started losing their ability to cook in 2010? Did they magically start losing the will to budget their expenses? Because that’s what he appears to be implying.
We now know that two million adults in UK can’t afford to eat every day due to the “catastrophic” cost of living crisis, with research suggesting the number of people struggling has risen by 57 per cent in three months. A separate survey found that one in 10 parents are “very likely” to use food banks to feed their children over the next three months, with a third of families skipping meals because of rising costs.
This shocking rise isn’t because people suddenly started using food delivery services, spending on Netflix or have lost the will to cook, at all. It happened because they fell (or, more pertinently, were driven) into poverty and hunger. I shouldn’t need to state the obvious here, but people go to food banks out of necessity – not so they can wait in line for tinned food.
And if you think it’s just one Tory MP harbouring such views, you’d be wrong. The MP for Ashford was defended by the Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley, who said there is a problem with “basic education” and numeracy skills.
Funny, isn’t it, that from 2010 a large number of people started spontaneously forgetting basic education and numeracy skills? Skills, we should add, that the government are responsible for instilling in our schools.
One minute Conservative MPs are criticising others of "doing Britons down" or not being patriotic enough, and the next minute they are insulting large numbers of us directly.
The idea that people are going to food banks because they have lost cooking or budgeting skills is beyond belief. It’s blaming poor, hungry people for their own plight, rather than trying to help them. Poverty and hunger aren’t unfortunate side-effects of any government – they are the result of political decisions. If you allow wages to fall below sustainable levels, people go hungry. A large proportion of those going to food banks, in fact have jobs already.
More than 17 per cent of people in jobs are officially classed as poor, a record set in 2021 – perhaps as a result of rising housing costs. Coincidentally, just this week the housing minister Michael Gove admitted the government was not going to reach its own target of building 300,000 houses per year.
We have known for decades that poverty and hunger are the result of political and economic decisions, not an accident of history. The Tories are trying to win through divide and rule – by blaming a large portion of the public for their situation while pretending they had nothing to do with it.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
Of course they did. If you cut support for working people, it gets harder for them to pull themselves out of poverty. If you allow housing costs to spiral by not building new ones, then people who don’t own end up having less money. If you allow companies to cut wages or sack workers en masse – as P&O Ferries did recently – then people fall into poverty.
The Conservatives will blame the poor, they will blame companies (for taking advantage of laws they passed), they will blame unions, Netflix or whatever else – but they will never blame themselves. The UK economy is beset by high prices and low economic growth thanks to decisions like cutting ourselves off from our largest export market: the EU.
It’s about time the Conservatives take responsibility for their own mess instead of blaming poorer people for having the temerity to go to food banks to feed their children.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies