Tory Councillor Chris Steward Claims Food Banks Are 'For People Who Can't Budget'

Tory Councillor Claims Food Banks 'For People Who Can't Budget'

A Tory councillor's comments have been condemned as "disgraceful" after he claimed food banks "merely enable those who can't budget" and allowed people to "spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes."

Conservative councillor for York Chris Steward told the York Press: "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.

"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."

Tracey Simpson-Laing, the council’s cabinet member for health, housing and adult social services, described Steward’s comments as "astounding" and "disgraceful." She told the Huffington Post UK she will be writing to David Cameron asking him to disown Steward.

"Coun. Steward’s comments show he has no understanding or compassion for how people can end up in a crisis, without food or a roof over their heads," she said.

"Saying food banks are for those who want ‘more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes' shows a very blinkered view and a clear lack of understanding of those struggling in tough times.

"His comments sound like a throwback to the Conservative Party of the 1980s. I will be writing to David Cameron to express my concern at Coun. Steward’s views and seek assurances that they don’t reflect government policy”.

The Huffington Post UK also understands that a petition is being launched calling for Steward to be censured by the council for his comments.

A spokesperson for the Trussell Trust food bank organisation challenged Mr Steward over where he got his information from.

He told the Huffington Post UK: "Thousands of people are referred to us in dire need, so we would beg to differ with his comments.

"There are lots of people out there on very low incomes who haven't had pay raises for a couple of years and whose bills have gone through the roof.

"Just because you're in work doesn't mean you have enough to live on.

"We'd like to know where he got his information from and invite him to prove his assertion.

The councillor's comments have already prompted a furious backlash on Twitter, with accusations that he is out of touch.

The remarks come only a few weeks after the plight of those visiting food banks at Christmas was revealed by the Huffington Post UK.

One single mother-of-three told how she was helped by a food bank in Salisbury after leaving an abusive relationship and being forced to move several times in the past year. She survives on benefits and received a food box and a Christmas hamper from the Trussell Trust in December.

In December the prime minister praised volunteers at food banks helping those in need as a good example of Big Society but said he shared Ed Miliband's concerns that there are more people struggling to pay the bills and "deal with their budgets."

The head of the UK’s largest provider of food banks has attacked the Conservative government for squeezing benefits and tax credits, with a below-inflation 1% rise, was "short-sighted" and did not take into account the future social costs of such a move.

Speaking last month Trussell Trust executive chairman Chris Mould said George Osborne should "look behind [his] soundbites, look at the kind of people who lose their jobs, think before you speak about who you’re pointing the finger at. Just try and put yourself in other people’s shoes."

Cabinet ministers, he said, "have an inadequate level of empathy with the people that we deal with".

If they had a "deeper understanding" of the causes of poverty, he added, "I believe they would choose to nuance their policy differently".

The 53-year-old former NHS executive said one of the main issues was low pay, rather than benefits.

"People are going without meals, sometimes for several days, because they are making choices about what to prioritise with the money they do have. They have to choose whether to heat the house or feed themselves.

The Trussell Trust has estimated that food banks will feed around 250,000 people in 2013, an astonishing increase of 400% since 2010.

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