Lord Freud, the millionaire Tory minister, has told the House of Lords that there is no evidence that the growth of food banks is linked to growing poverty and hunger - merely that people wish to get food for free.
Freud, a Work and Pensions minister, prompted loud jeers from the Opposition benches when he insisted that the food banks were not considered part of the welfare system.
Former investment banker Freud was responding to a question from Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, about the issuing of food vouchers by Jobcentre Plus branches for use at food banks.
He told the Lords that food banks were "absolutely not part of our welfare system, in which we have other means of supporting people."
Challenged by Lord McKenzie of Luton and the Bishop of Truro, Rt Rev Tim Thornton, on the link between benefit delays and people being driven to use food banks, Lord Freud said there was "actually no evidence as to whether the use of food banks is supply led or demand led.
"The provision of food-bank support has grown from provision to 70,000 individuals two years ago to 347,000. All that predates the reforms. As I say, there is no evidence of a causal link."
Freud said it was "difficult to know which came first, the supply or the demand."
"Food from a food bank—the supply—is a free good, and by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good."
This week, the Trussell Trust, the UK's largest network of food banks, reported that 70% of families suffering from food poverty with children in primary school education rely in some part on food supplied by schools, either through free school meals or food given out by breakfast or after school clubs.
Trussell Trust foodbanks have recently seen the biggest ever increase in numbers - almost 350,000 people received three days emergency food in 2012-13, 170 per cent more than the previous year.
“We're meeting parents who've gone hungry for days in order to feed their children, and school holidays are always especially difficult with many budgets stretched to breaking point," Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust said.
"We are concerned that Lord Freud has failed to understand the reality of hunger in the UK," said Jonny Butterworth, director of JustFair.
"Families do not use food banks because they like free food, they use them because they are desperate.
"Many British people are forced to rely on food aid because prices for heating, food, rent and travel are rising rapidly, while incomes remain static and social security is being delayed, capped, frozen and cut."
Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, told the Independent: “These comments show just how out of touch this Government is. The welfare revolution we were promised has failed.
"Unemployment is up, the benefits bill is soaring £20bn higher than planned, and food banks are growing by the day, yet the only ones getting any extra help from this Government are millionaires.”
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