Lee Anderson is so busy explaining his thoughts on food banks, he doesn’t realise how badly he’s losing

He took it upon himself to share a picture of his research assistant, Katy, who gets by just fine on less than thirty grand, working for him and renting a room in a London house share. It’s hard to know where to start, really

Tom Peck
Friday 20 January 2023 12:11 GMT
Tory MP claims there is no 'massive use' for food banks in UK

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” said Ronald Reagan once, and what a shame he had to die before his timeless aphorism reached its truest expression, its never-to-be-surpassed peak. Because you are most certainly never losing more than when you’re explaining that you were absolutely right to be slagging off nurses for the crime of having to use a food bank.

But well, this is where we are. This is a government that is not merely losing, but dying. In fact not dying, it died a long time ago, but actively decaying.

It would be bad enough if you were having merely to explain why it is that NHS nurses are having to use food banks. That would surely be enough of a humiliation. But to explain that it’s all their own fault takes losing to a whole new level.

There was a pandemic not that long ago. Nurses were among the more than 200 NHS frontline workers who died of Covid, the vast majority of them young and healthy, statistical outliers. Consistent polling shows the public bears them precisely no ill will as they prepare to strike again for better pay and conditions, a course of action they have never taken before.

The stories that NHS trusts are opening food banks solely for the use of their staff, all of whom are self evidently in regular paid employment, is deeply shaming. But it is certainly not as shameful as the decision of Simon Clarke MP (the breakout star of all 49 days of the Truss administration), to tell the BBC the problem is that they need to “budget better”.

Clarke stands by his comments, specifically that the average nurse’s salary is £35,000 and anyone on £35,000 shouldn’t be using a food bank. Clarke was chief secretary to the Treasury during the Truss Weeks, 49 days which cost the country over £60bn. Obviously there’s a lot to unpack there, but one wonders if it has occurred to him that if the average salary is £35,000 then there will be quite a few nurses – possibly as many as half – earning considerably under that figure. That is how averages work.

Clarke stands by his comments. That if you’re on thirty grand you should be able to make ends meet, apart from in “very particular circumstances”.

One such particular circumstance, rare though it is, is having children. If you happen to be both a nurse and a single parent, having two children in full-time childcare will cost you basically all of your £30K a year salary, after tax. Exorbitant childcare costs was one of the many things Truss was going to sort out, presumably with Clarke’s help. If she had only managed not to accidentally self-immolate after under two months in the job, Clarke would, we must assume, be busy sorting out those poor nurses’ lives for them, instead of insulting them, but oh well. When it rains it pours.

Enter, at this point, Lee Anderson, the fully lobotomised Tory MP for Ashfield. Anderson has over the last three years worked very hard to establish himself, in a very crowded field indeed, as the very dimmest member of the House of Commons. Anderson likes nothing more than to tell people how he volunteers at his local food bank, and in so doing accidentally reveals how much he loathes everyone who has to use it.

There are, you see, people in his constituency who earn less than thirty grand who don’t need to use a food bank, and so therefore, in his head and precisely nowhere else, anyone who needs to use one simply doesn’t know how to manage their money properly.

On Thursday lunchtime, he took it upon himself to share a picture of his research assistant, Katy, who gets by just fine on less than thirty grand, working for him and renting a room in a London house share. It’s hard to know where to start, really. The median UK salary is currently £31,285. If anyone were suggesting that absolutely everyone earning less than that needs to be using a food bank, then there would be upwards of 20 million people, instead of the still utterly shaming 2.5 million.

Naturally, we do not wish to be mean about young Katy. She has a tough enough life as it is, working for a very dim man who has drop-kicked her into an internet cesspit just to try and win an argument that a below-average three-year-old could see through. But it genuinely doesn’t appear to have occurred to Anderson that not all people are the same. What if Katy gets pregnant and the dad goes awol, and maybe she doesn’t necessarily want to bring up a child in a single room in a house with her mates in London?

What happens then? Well, who knows, exactly? Of course, we must hope it doesn’t happen, though it would at least make for a particularly bleak sitcom in which a poorly paid and generally struggling parliamentary researcher turns up to the House of Commons each day, to hang out with a very stupid man who’s doing precisely nothing to fix the unimaginable mess that his party has left the country in, but does have time to tell her over and over again that she simply doesn’t know how to budget properly.

That it’s definitely all her fault. That she needs to sort her life out, and that’s nothing that the actual government can possibly do to help. Because that’s the position. That’s the explaining. What happens next – next year in fact – is the losing.

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