Under-fire Conservative MP Lee Anderson has trembled down on his controversial comments about food banks in the wake of a huge backlash.
The MP for Ashfield has faced heavy criticism – including from within his own party – since appearing to suggest that some food bank users ‘cannot cook properly’, telling the House of Commons on Wednesday that “generation after generation” of people “cannot budget” or make meals properly.
Anderson caused outrage with the comments, but went on to repeat them in an interview with Times Radio the following day, saying he was being criticized for “talking common sense.”
The government has appeared to distance itself from the controversial comments, with Justice Minister Victoria Atkins saying the remarks were “not right”.
But Anderson trebled down on the comments again on Thursday, saying he had been involved in a project with a local food bank that proved that batch cooking could help people make meals for as little as 30p.
Watch: Tory MP says there’s no ‘massive use’ for food banks as users ‘can’t cook or budget’
He told ITV News: “People can do it. We’ve proved they can do it, they’ve had some successes at the food bank.
“Anybody who says they can’t make a meal for 30 pence then 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, he knows his stuff, so if he can do it and teach me to do it then anybody can do it.”
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He said they had spent £50 and cooked 172 meals with it, including breakfasts, lunches and evening meals as well as teabags and sugar and milk for a week.
“It can be done if you’re taught,” he added. “We proved that you can cook a meal for about 30-odd pence – are you telling me people can’t afford 30-odd pence for a meal, because at the moment they’re paying a lot more than that.”
Watch: Tory MP’s food bank comments do not ‘reflect the work of the government’
He later returned to the point when it was suggested that rising energy bills are making it even harder for people to cook, and that some food banks have suggested that food that can be microwaved would be more helpful for those who can’t afford to run their ovens or cookers.
“If you batch cook and put a load of stuff in your oven and on them rings, it’s a lot cheaper in the long term because you get those out, you put them in the freezer and you can eat them for a week,” he he replied.
The MP also hit back at suggestions that he is out of touch, saying: “Just eight or nine years ago I was on £15k a year. I had three jobs, I worked at a hostel and I worked two jobs at the weekend. I had a really really poor wage and I struggled to get by.
“I’m not accepting anybody… 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 had to go without myself, so don’t come here and tell me that I don’t know people are struggling. I’ve been that man.”
On Thursday, Victoria Atkins told Sky News: “This is not the view of me or anyone else in Government. We want to give not just immediate help but longer-term support as well.”
The MP for Louth and Horncastle added that she believed Mr Anderson’s position may have been misinterpreted.
When asked about the remarks after a Cabinet meeting in Staffordshire, Boris Johnson refused to say whether he agreed with them but described the problem of child hunger as “totally unacceptable”.
Meanwhile, Labor branded Mr Anderson’s remarks “beyond belief”, 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.”