In full: ITV News Central Reporter Phil Brewster interviews Tory MP for Ashfield Lee Anderson
Ashfield MP Lee Anderson is standing by his comments on food banks, after he sparked a row by blaming food poverty on a lack of cooking and budgeting skills.
Earlier this week the Tory backbencher caused outrage after telling the House of Commons that “generation after generation” of people “cannot budget” or make meals properly.
His comments were branded “beyond belief” by Labour, “disgraceful”, by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP said they were “crass”.
He made the remarks as UK households face rising inflation whilst energy prices drive up bills, and official statistics confirm the everyday cost of living is going up.
Speaking to ITV Central, Mr Anderson has stood by his comments and said help needs to be given to people who can’t cook or budget to stop their reliance on food banks.
Among his suggestions was for people living in poverty to try batch cooking and freezing meals in bulk.
He said: “The food banks that are being used, there’s far too many because we’ve got people going there that’s got a genuine need – let’s get that right.
“There are people that’s got a genuine need for food banks.
“There’s people that are abusing the system and there’s people that go there because, you know like I say, they’re not allowed to budget, they’re not allowed to cook properly.
“And if we can get all those people and help them with those budgeting skills, with those cooking skills so they are not so reliant on going to the food bank and keep a bit of extra money in their pocket and surely that’s got to be a good thing.”
Britons this year are facing the biggest drop in living standards since records began in 1956, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Food prices are also rising at the fastest rate in 30 years.
Household energy bills have also soared to a record-high, inflation looks set to join it at 10%, taxes are going up, and the UK is expected to enter a recession later this year.
‘Not living in the real world’
When asked by ITV News Central Reporter Phil Brewster about his reaction to his constituents saying what he said was ‘insulting and that he’s not living in the real world’, Mr Anderson said: “Well that is different to my inbox, the messages I had this morning.
“Lots of people in Ashfield have been emailing in to support me, I mean a lot of what I’ve said yesterday has been misreported in the press.
“I never for one minute said poor people could not cook, I never said that, I said some people struggle with cooking skills and budgeting skills and the food bank I am working with – which I donate money to and help out with on a regular basis.
“They’ve got this new initiative where they are helping people when they come in for a food parcel they have to enrol on a budgeting course and a cooking course.
“That gives them the skills to go forward and get them better value for money.
“A lot of these people are on benefits or are low paid so that’s got to be a good thing, that’s putting more money in their pocket at the end of the week.”
Cook a meal for 30p a day
During his House of Commons speech, Mr Anderson also said meals could be cooked from scratch “for about 30 pence a day”.
He also invited “everybody” on the opposition benches to visit a food bank in Ashfield.
Speaking to ITV Central he spoke about his own experiences of cooking meals for 30p a day.
He said: “I have done yes. I was invited to come to the food bank to have a go, we went with a chef and four other MPs, we went to the local supermarket, spent £50 on groceries.
“The challenge was to feed a family of five for £50 a week, we actually beat that and we made 172 meals for £50 – so yes, I can make a meal for 30p.”
He added: “This is about batch cooking, this is about cooking in bulk, this is about if you’ve got family and friends that can help you cook as much as you can, get these meals frozen in the fridge and then get them out when you need them.
“It’s about saving that money and people can do it, we’ve proven that they can do it.
“They’ve had some successes at the food bank, anyone who says they can’t make a meal for 30p, they’ve obviously not had that training that education.
“We’ve got a top class chef, who works in a top restaurant, he does this for us and if he can do this and teach us how to do it, then anyone can do it.”
‘We made 172 meals’
So what can you buy or 30p as the cost of living continues to shoot up?
Mr Anderson said: “We spent £50 in Aldi, we made 172 meals that included breakfast, lunch and dinner and tea and milk. It can be done if you’re taught.
“We proved that you can cook a meal for 30p, now are you telling me that people can’t afford 30-odd pence for a meal?
“Because at the moment they are paying a lot more than that.”
‘Let me tell you about my bills’
According to myexpenses.info, which is sourced directly from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, between June 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021, Mr Anderson claimed £208,491.24 on MP expenses, with the majority spent on staffing.
His total claimed for that period, excluding staffing costs, was £46,151.24.
The latter figure included more than £14,000 on accommodation and over £3,500 on travel for the MP, whose constituency is 120 miles from parliament.
ITV News Central Reporter Phil Brewster asked how much Mr Anderson understand about how normal people are struggling on bills.
Mr Anderson said: “Well let me tell you about my bills, just eight or nine years ago I was on £15,000 a year, I had three jobs, I worked at an hostel and I worked two jobs at the weekend.
“I’m not having anyone on the left or in the media in your position dictating to me that I don’t know about the cost of living. I’ve been there, I’ve been that single parent with two kids…I’ve been that man.
“The point of our cooking lessons is to go back to the basics, it’s about getting those raw ingredients, it’s about cooking from scratch, getting your oven open and bang them in there.
“And you know what, people say it’s cheaper in a microwave – it’s not.
“If you batch cook and put a load of stuff in your oven and on those rings, it’s a lot cheaper in the long term because you get them out, you put them in the freezer and you can eat it for a week.”
‘Abuse of food banks’
Mr Anderson said: “I know people that do it and any food bank will tell you that.
“I’ve been to food banks myself and there are some people – not a lot – but there’s that small element in society that are abusing food banks.”
What does the PM have to say about it?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Stoke on Thursday, May 12, to meet with his cabinet.
He spoke to ITV Central about Mr Anderson’s comments in the House of Commons earlier this week.
He said: “We’ve got to support people who are finding it tough in any way that we can. When it comes to supporting people who need food…we have given extra money to councils and will continue to do that.
“We don’t want to see any kid, any family going hungry in this country. We will do whatever we can to help.
“We will use maximum ingenuity and compassion throughout this period as we come through the post-Covid aftershocks, but also continue with our focus on high wage high skill jobs.”