Conservative councillor Chris Steward claimed earlier this month that foodbanks “merely enable those who can’t budget” and allowed people to “spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes”. Steward told the York press “There is certainly no need for foodbanks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think they insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day.”
Steward’s comments arrived the same week as figures from the European Toddler Nutrition Index, which revealed British children to be the fussiest eaters in Europe. Tracey Simpson-Laing, the council’s cabinet member for health, housing and adult social services, described Steward’s comments as “astounding” and “disgraceful” and told the Huffington Post that she will be asking the Prime Minister to disown Steward.
Laing argued, “Councillor 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.” Steward’s views prompted a backlash on Twitter.
@justjonnyboy – @chrisdsteward@benaspinall12 – Glad you can support your local football team. Even if you can’t support the vulnerable in society.
@jessicarfisher – ‘Do people have to be ‘starving’ before they deserve help? Whats the threshold? To death? Malnourishment? Constant hunger?
@woodclaudia Ridiculous – because we don’t have “children with swollen bellies and bones sticking out” in UK we shouldn’t worry about UK poverty?!
Government figures show that a foodbank has recently been introduced in Surrey, one of the richest parts of the UK, that’s home to million-pound mansions. Owner Sam Stapley explained that some people who had been helped by the foodbank had owned businesses and watched their companies fail. Stapley said of the trend, “People make one or two bad decisions and they end up having to go bankrupt. A year ago, they would never have dreamed they would find themselves in a foodbank. It can be very humiliating.”
Surrey foodbank user Wayne Welbourne ran his own cleaning business and employed 10 people at its peak, before the loss of a key council contact in 2010 forced him to into administration. Welbourne commented, “The blow to my pride felt a bit like being punched in the gut.”
Many critics have asked the government to rethink policy including Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould who contended, “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 have an inadequate level of empathy with the people that we deal with. If they had a deeper understanding of the causes of poverty, I believe they would choose to nuance their policy differently.”
Journalist Owen Jones also pointed the finger at the coalition in The Independent earlier this month. “Think of all the proud achievements they’ve notched up in just 32 months; a six-fold increase in people relying on foodbanks and the longest fall in living standards for nearly a century”.