YORK’S Conservative leader has said he believes “poverty is an overused word” in the wake of controversial comments by a member of his party about food banks.
Chris Steward, a Conservative councillor, sparked an angry row after stating there is no absolute poverty in Britain and food banks were “an insult” to starving people around the world. He said donating to them allowed recipients to spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes.
In response to the comments, Tory leader Ian Gillies said he had not yet spoken to Coun Steward but questioned how many people were in poverty, stating that while food banks “can only be a good thing” for those in need, there are some people who claim to be in need if they do not have satellite television.
Coun Gillies said: “Poverty is an overused word. Some people say they are in poverty if they can’t afford Sky television.
“But that does not detract from the people we need to help. There are obviously people in need and we should be doing everything we can to help those people.
“I would say the word poverty is used too quickly. There are people in need of help and some less fortunate than others.
“There are people who say they are in poverty but really don’t know the meaning of the word poverty.”
Coun Steward’s comments were condemned by The Trussell Trust, which runs 275 food banks nationwide, which said he was “poorly informed”.
A spokesperson for the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said: “York may be a relatively well-off city, but that only masks the very real hardship experienced by many right on our doorstep.
“Food parcels were once the preserve of wartime Britain. But such is the struggle to meet the cost of essentials, the growth of food banks is tantamount to the reality facing families today.
“Food costs for families with children have increased by about 20 per cent since 2008 and the gap between the incomes and needs of worst-off households is widening.
“Six million people in working households are now in poverty – which is testament to the prevalence of hardship in the UK. The fact is millions of ordinary people are finding it ever harder to make end meets and put food on the table.
“We need policies that help ease the real struggles faced by families, not squabbles or denial as to whether that struggle exists.”