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Lee Anderson: Data on food banks reveals worst-hit parts of UK as Tory MP’s comments branded ‘disgraceful’

Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, has been criticised for linking food bank use to cooking and budgeting skills.

Latest figures suggest reliance on food banks is increasing across the UK as the cost of living crisis deepens, despite a Conservative MP saying people use them because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.

Almost 2.2 million emergency food parcels were given out across the UK last year, including more than 830,000 to children, data published last month (27 April) by the Trussell Trust shows.

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Lee Anderson, 55, the Conservative MP for Ashfield, said yesterday (11 May) that there is not “this massive use for food banks” in the UK, but “generation after generation who cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.

But figures suggest food bank use is directly affected by major issues hitting the country, from the pandemic to the current energy crisis.

The number of emergency food parcels being given out by Trussell Trust food banks has gradually increased since 2014-15 with the number peaking at 2.6 million in 2020-21, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The most recent numbers for 2021-22 show a 15% drop on the previous year’s figures.

However, the number given out was still 14% higher compared to 2019-20 (before the pandemic), and it was only the second time the charity’s food banks had provided more than 2 million parcels – providing an early indication of the impact the cost of living crisis is having on households across the country.

Mr Anderson’s comments have been slammed by some politicians with Labour saying the comments were “beyond belief” and the Liberal Democrats describing them as “disgraceful” and “an insult to millions of hard-working people”.

The Trussell Trust said the Government must act fast to lessen the impact of the crisis on vulnerable communities, warning people are already skipping meals to feed their children as they sink further into financial hardship.

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Which areas are most reliant on food banks?

Analysis by NationalWorld shows residents in some councils may be much more reliant on food bank parcels than in other areas.

Based on an analysis of the total population against the total number of food parcels distributed, Eastbourne residents received the highest level of support. The South East council area had a rate of 17,440 emergency food parcels distributed per 100,000 people last year – the highest in the UK.

This was followed by Oadby and Wigston in the East Midlands which had a rate of 14,768, and Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East with a rate of 14,661.

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Based on the total number of parcels distributed overall, Sheffield residents received the most support with 60,142 packages, followed by Birmingham with 51,319 and Newcastle with 44,983. Trussell Trust food banks in Sheffield also supplied the greatest number of emergency food parcels to children, providing 22,926 in total.

Regionally, Wales was found to have the highest rate of food parcel use in the UK with a rate of 4,140 food parcels distributed per 100,000 people, followed by the North East with 3,735 and Scotland with 3,605.

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What needs to be done to help people?

The Trussell Trust currently has over 1,600 distribution centres operating in 293 local authorities across the UK.

Chief executive Emma Revie urged the Government to take action as people were “skipping meals to feed their children”.

She said: “Food banks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship.

“There is still time for the UK government to do the right thing. We are calling on the UK government to bring benefits in line with the true cost of living.

“As an urgent first step, benefits should be increased by at least 7%, keeping pace with increases in the cost of living. In the longer term, we need the Government to introduce a commitment in the benefits system to ensure that everyone has enough money in their pockets to be prevented from falling into destitution.

“By failing to make benefits payments realistic for the times we face, the Government now risks turning the cost of living crisis into a national emergency.”

What is the government doing to help?

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”