Tory MP Lee Anderson defends saying food bank users ‘cannot cook properly’
A Conservative MP has doubled down on his controversial comments claiming poor people use food banks because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.
Lee Anderson sparked widespread outrage by claimed there is not “this massive use for food banks”, urging Labour MPs to visit a charity in his Ashfield constituency where people get cooking lessons.
Mr Anderson was unapologetic when asked about his remarks on Thursday – claiming that people “would be able to fend for themselves” with the right education.
The Tory MP told Times Radio: “There are generations of people there who simply haven’t got the skills to budget properly and go shopping and do a proper weekly shop, like we did back in the day.”
He added: “The point I was making was that there are a lot of people out there that with the right help, and the right support, and the right education, they would be able to fend for themselves.”
Mr Anderson said he was not “being a nasty Tory”, before adding: “I’m glad that it’s caused all this fuss. Because it brings that debate out.”
Asked why his comments had sparked such a huge reaction, he said: “Because I’m talking common sense. It’s as simple as that. I’m getting a lot of emails of support. The left will obviously jump on this [and] the mainstream media.”
He added: “I’ll stick to my point … There is a massive problem in this country where people simply cannot cook.”
It comes as it emerged that Mr Anderson claimed almost £220,000 in expenses in a single year. The sum was slightly higher than the average £203,000 claimed by MPs. His biggest cost was on staffing at £165,215, followed by £33,144 for office costs.
Labour branded Mr Anderson’s remarks “beyond belief”, while the Liberal Democrats described them as “disgraceful” and the SNP said they were “crass”.
The TUC insisted the comments showed “how out of touch Conservative MPs and ministers are with the cost-of-living emergency”.
The Trussell Trust food bank network also rejected the idea that education was the main problem. Sumi Rabindrakumar, head of policy, told The Independent: “Food bank need in the UK is about lack of income, not food.”
The Trussell Trust network distributed more than 2.1 million emergency food parcels – a 14 per cent increase compared to same period in 2019-20.
The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) has written to the chancellor Rishi Sunak to warn that they are close to “breaking point” from an unsustainable surge in demand during the cost of living crisis.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins condemned her colleague’s comments on Thursday. “That’s not right – I do not agree with him,” she told Sky News about his remarks.
The Tory minister added: “I have said I don’t agree with him. This is not the view of me or anyone else in government. I really appreciate the work of food banks across the country.”
However, Mr Anderson was backed by fellow Conservative MP Ben Bradley, who said there is a problem with “basic education” and “poor basic skills around cooking and budgeting”.
The MP for Mansfield added: “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 frontbencher Lisa Nandy told Sky News: “We need to stop this patronising rubbish about this being the fault of people who are working harder than ever before.”