Tory MP Slapped Down For Criticising Fire Fighters Using Food Banks

Brendan Clarke-Smith told emergency workers on £32,000 a year using food banks to “learn how to budget”.
Brendan Clarke-Smith said fire fighters using food banks was the most “ridiculous” thing he had heard.
Brendan Clarke-Smith said fire fighters using food banks was the most “ridiculous” thing he had heard.
Getty / Parliament

A cabinet minister has slapped down a Tory MP who criticised fire fighters on £32,000 a year for using food banks.

Transport secretary Mark Harper distanced himself from comments made by Brendan Clarke-Smith who said it was “ridiculous” emergency workers were using food bank facilities.

Clarke-Smith, the MP for Bassetlaw, had said: “I respect the profession, but £32,244 and using a food bank? Never heard such a ridiculous thing in my life.

“I earned a lot less than that for most of my teaching career, and so do many of my constituents. If true, which is unlikely, I suggest learning how to budget and prioritise.”

However, Harper told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “I wouldn’t put things in the way that he has.

“I think, look, people are under pressure at the moment because we’ve got high levels of inflation, partly driven by high energy prices, that’s why the government’s put a lot of support in place.

“I don’t know what individual family circumstances are. What the government’s committed to doing is making sure that we drive down inflation, we get inflation under control and that people working in the public sector get fair and reasonable pay offers...”

Pressed on whether someone earning £32,000 a year should be using a food bank, Harper replied: “I don’t know what individual circumstances are for people but that’s a salary that’s above the median income across the economy as a whole.

“We’re trying to make sure that people that work in public services have fair and reasonable pay offers that are consistent with what people across the economy are getting.”

Clarke-Smith had made the comment in response to a tweet from the Fire Brigades Union, which said: “Freedom of Information requests reveal that chief fire officers are on average on £148,000 – whilst many ordinary firefighters, on £32,244, are forced to food banks.”

Social media users criticised the Tory MP for his comment, with one saying: “So my take home pay is approx £2,100…then take out my childcare, energy bills, rent and car insurance (things I have to pay) and I’m struggling.

“Food, essentials for my little one, phone bills as a single parent? How can you be so blind to the lived experience?”

Another added: “You forgot that during your teaching career, gas/electric wasn’t £3k a year (on average), mortgage payments weren’t doubling, petrol prices weren’t sky high and the cost of living every day wasn’t extortionate. So your example isn’t valid.”

Another Tory MP recently came under fire for criticising nurses who used food banks, suggesting they must have “something wrong” with their own finances.

Lee Anderson said anyone earning £30,000 a year who needed to use a food bank was not managing their money properly.

He made the comments when asked about striking nurses who have had to resort to food banks to get by during the cost of living crisis.

The Ashfield MP, whose basic salary is £84,144, told Times Radio: “I heard some nonsense a few weeks back that nurses were actually stealing food off patients’ plates. I don’t believe it.

“Anybody earning 30 odd grand a year, which most nurses are, using food banks, then they’ve got something wrong with their own finances.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing told HuffPost UK: “Comments like this show a total disconnect with the reality for the tens of thousands of nurses who have been forced out in the cold onto picket lines fighting for fair pay.”


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