A SENIOR York politician has sparked a furious row by saying there is no real poverty in Britain and people should not donate to food banks.
Chris Steward, a Conservative councillor, said living standards had surged, that there was no need for food banks, that they were an insult to starving people around the world, and that donating to them allowed recipients to spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes.
But his comments have been condemned by political opponents and The Trussell Trust, which runs 275 banks nationwide.
Chris Mould, the charity’s executive chairman, said more than 10,000 professionals nationwide were referring people to food banks and said: “He is making totally inappropriate assertions which I challenge him to back up with proper evidence.”
Coun Steward said on twitter that it insulted those in poverty to claim it existed in the UK. Asked to elaborate, he said Britain had relative poverty, like every country, but not absolute poverty.
He said: “We have lots of poor people, but living standards have surged over the years. There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day and ignore the fact a child dies of hunger every three seconds.
"The fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget (an issue where schools should do much more and I have said the council should) or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”
Mr Mould said Coun Steward was “poorly informed” and said living standards for people on low incomes had declined in recent years, with heating costs rising by 65 per cent in five years and the cost of basic food rising by 35 per cent. He said it was stereotyping to say those on low incomes were using money unwisely, saying there were many reasons why people found themself in crisis.
He said: “He says there is no need for food banks; I am astonished by his assertion. What does he know? Where is his evidence? More than 10,000 front-line professionals, week in week out, are referring people they are trying to help to food banks.
"They are seeing people from Cornwall to Inverness, York to Liverpool, and in increasing numbers they are referring people to food banks. I am talking from an evidence-base of 10,000 care professionals who would argue with him. It is astonishing he would make an assertion like that.”
Mr Mould said nobody suggested people should not be distressed or outraged by unnecessary hunger elsewhere in the world, but said: “It is clear that people in the UK who we meet have been going without meals when they arrive at food banks. They are going to bed hungry too. We are one of the richest countries in the world, but one of the most unequal in terms of income distribution in Europe.”
Tracey Simpson-Laing, the council’s cabinet member for health, housing and adult social services, called Coun Steward’s comments “astounding” and “disgraceful”, coming soon after the launch of The Press’s Stamp Out Poverty campaign and the findings of the York’s Fairness Commission, led by the Archbishop of York.
She said the council was working to tackle poverty, asked other Tory councillors to say whether they agreed with Coun Steward, and said she would write to Prime Minister David Cameron to ask whether Coun Steward’s comments reflected Government policy.