A Tory candidate had blamed “staged outrage” after his claims about foodbanks sparked fury at an election hustings.
Brendan Clarke-Smith faced shouts of “shame on you!” last week when he attacked “prejudiced” ideas about foodbanks and tried to deflect blame from Tory welfare cuts.
He added food banks were being used a “top up” and a “political weapon” adding: “If you keep saying to people that you’re going to give stuff away, then you’re going to have an increase I’m afraid.”
And he said it was “simply not true” that Britain is “some kind of country in crisis and in absolute poverty”.
Mr Clarke-Smith prompted shouts of anger in Tory target seat Bassetlaw, while Labour accused him of not caring about welfare cuts pushing people into poverty.
Yet challenged on his comments by the Mirror today, he stood by the remarks – saying the shouts at the hustings were “staged outrage” because audience members were reacted before he answered.
He also told us it’s “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis” and said: “Some people can afford to budget, some people can’t”.
Asked today if had any second thoughts, regrets or wanted to take back any of what he said he said at the hustings: “Not really.
“What I actually said is it’s a good thing we have people doing charitable work to help out people in genuine need.”
Mr Clarke-Smith told us: “Well there was one before I started speaking so it was more of a planted kind of outrage I’m afraid – it was more as a staged kind of outrage, there was a reaction before I actually answered the question.”
He added he was “trying to put it in perspective” and show a “false agenda that’s being promoted”. He said: “I stand by the fact it’s been weaponised. I don’t obviously believe that everybody who uses a food bank is just taking advantage, I think that’s actually very rare.”
Mr Clarke-Smith said during last week’s hustings: “I’m afraid that what we should not be giving is the impression that this is so widespread that we are some kind of country in crisis and in absolute poverty. This is simply not true.”
Today he added to the Mirror: “I don’t think it’s necessarily that we can argue that poverty has grown in the country”.
Told poverty had grown he said: “Well, you’re talking about relative.” Told absolute poverty had gone up too he said: “I don’t believe that’s true, I would question that.”
The government’s own figures state relative poverty after housing costs has risen from 13m to 14m since 2010 while absolute poverty has indeed fallen slightly from 13m to 12.5m, as Mr Clarke-Smith said.
However, the number of children in relative low income, after housing costs, has risen by 500,000 from 3.6m to 4.1m and the number in absolute poverty rose from 3.6m to 3.7m.
Mr Clarke-Smith also said in the hustings: “Food banks should be a short term solution to help people out. I think that’s what they should be there for.
“They [food banks] should not be used as a top up, they should not be used as a political weapon, and I’m afraid they are used as that far too often.
“If you keep saying to people that you’re going to give stuff away, then you’re going to have an increase I’m afraid.”
Asked by the Mirror today if he was suggesting people see foodbanks as free food and could do without them, he said: “Not on a normal basis, no.
“But I think there are people who are trying to get the message out that people can’t afford to buy everyday essentials.
“Obviously some people can afford to budget, some people can’t at all. You have your fuel bills and so on, and housing.”
He added: “I’m not one of these people who just assumes automatically that everyone’s spending money on iPhones and televisions or whatever. I know that’s not true.
“Obviously maybe some people do, but obviously in terms of food, once you’ve paid your housing it’s the first thing you’d go for.
“But I think what really disappoints me is, again, this idea that people can’t afford to buy food on a regular regular basis. It is just simply not true.
“It’s a short term thing that you’re there to help people in desperate need and the Labour Party are making out that the welfare state doesn’t provide for people in absolute poverty.
“We actually have a very good welfare system in this country, I think, that takes care of the poorest and most vulnerable people and I think we should be proud of that.”
The Trussell Trust foodbank charity states clearly that the main reason for almost 38% of cases it receives is either benefit delays or benefit changes.
But Mr Clarke-Smith told the hustings: “It’s not just people on welfare that have used food banks.
“Flooding victims, people who are escaping domestic abuse and so on. Food banks actually help out all sorts of people.
“So I think there’s sometimes a prejudiced idea of what food banks actually are. So let’s be clear, food banks actually have wide ranging things and do a very very good job.”
He added: “If you are going to say to somebody that you are going to refer them on or you are going to give them something, obviously you’re going to have an increase in that. It always, always is the way”.
Today he told the Mirror it was right to have a “safety net” but said “there’s a lot more awareness” that food banks exist.
He added the Tories had helped by providing free childcare for working parents and taken low wage workers out of income tax, national insurance.
Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “It is a scandal that so many families are going hungry in one of the world’s richest countries.
“Food insecurity has soared in Britain since 2010, with many food bank users in employment. No one chooses to be unable to afford food. Yet Tory candidates do not care that their austerity has pushed so many people into poverty.
“In this election there is a clear choice: five more years of poverty and inequality under the Tories, or vote for Labour to end foodbank Britain and bring about real change.”
Labour have a 4,852 majority over the Tories in Bassetlaw, but the seat is tipped to go blue on Thursday after MP John Mann stood down to join the Lords.