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Tory MP Lee Anderson defends saying food bank users ‘cannot cook properly’

Lee Anderson (UK Parliament/PA)
Lee Anderson (UK Parliament/PA)

A Conservative MP has defended his comments on food banks after saying people use them because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.

Lee Anderson invited “everybody” on the opposition benches in the Commons to visit a food bank in his Nottinghamshire constituency where, when people come for a food parcel, they now need to register for a “budgeting course” and a “cooking course”.

Asked by a Labour MP if it should be necessary to have food banks in 21st century Britain, the MP for Ashfield said there is not “this massive use for food banks” in the UK, but “generation after generation who cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.

His comments during the second day of the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons were harshly criticised, with some urging him to apologise.

However, Mr Anderson hit back at the reporting of his comments, writing on Facebook: “Gutter Press Again.

“I did not say poor people cannot cook or there is no need for food banks. I said there is not the need currently being parrotted out by the MSM (mainstream media).

“Today I challenged the whole Parliamentary Labour Party to come to Ashfield to visit the food bank I work with. The give food parcels away on the condition the enrole for cooking and budgeting lessons.

“I have done several events at the foodbank where we batch cooked food on a budget. My offer stands. Come to Ashfield.”

He was backed by Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley, who said there is a problem with “basic education” and numeracy skills.

Mr Bradley told Nottinghamshire Live: “People take Lee’s comments about a small group of people, and there is a cycle, he is absolutely right, about a small number, or a large number really, but a minority, of families and generations of poor education, poor basic skills around cooking and budgeting, if you don’t know as a parent how to do things and you find that cycle of poverty and it is important to break into that at some stage with the kind of education Lee is talking about.”

Labour branded Mr Anderson’s remarks “beyond belief”, and the Liberal Democrats described them as “disgraceful” and the SNP said they were “crass”.

The Child Poverty Action Group claimed politicians “would do better to back real-world solutions, like bringing benefits in line with inflation this autumn” and the Trussell Trust charity insisted “cooking meals from scratch won’t help families keep the lights on or put food on the table, if they don’t have enough money in their pockets”.

The Trades Union Congress insisted the comments showed “how out of touch Conservative MPs and ministers are with the cost-of-living emergency”.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West), the subsequent speaker in the Commons debate, told Mr Anderson people do not use food banks because they do not know how to cook, but because “we have poverty in this country at a scale that should shame his Government”.

Shadow work and pensions minister Karen Buck said: “In the world where people actually live, we now hear daily stories of families going without food and others unable to turn their ovens on in fear of rising energy bills.

“The idea that the problem is cooking skills and not 12 years of Government decisions that are pushing people into extreme poverty is beyond belief.

“Out of touch doesn’t even cover it.”

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokeswoman Wendy Chamberlain said in a statement outside the Commons: “These comments are disgraceful and an insult to millions of hard-working people who are struggling to put food on the table for their family through no fault of their own.

“Lee Anderson should apologise straight away for his shameful remarks.”

SNP work and pensions spokeswoman Kirsty Blackman said: “These comments from a Tory MP that people who use food banks do so because they don’t know how to cook or budget are reprehensible, but they also highlight how out of touch this broken Tory Government is with ordinary people.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that “rather than being condescending, Conservative politicians should be putting pressure on the Chancellor to call an emergency budget”.