Northampton MP criticised as “ill-informed” and “ignorant” by charity after calling some food bank users “free-loaders”

Brian Binley MP
Brian Binley MP

A Northampton MP has been labelled “ill-informed” and “ignorant” by a leading county charity after claiming a rise in demand for food banks was being skewed by an increase in free-loaders.

In last week’s Chronicle & Echo, Brian Binley was responding to reports by The Trussel Trust that there had been a “marked increase” in people requiring the emergency food supplies in affluent areas of south Northamptonshire.

He said: “It isn’t a case of there bring more and more people. It’s partly because more and more people are free-loading. From a man of my background, that ain’t how you live.”

But grants director of Northamptonshire Community Foundation, Rachel McGrath, said she had been “deeply saddened” by the comments.

In a letter to the Chron, she said: “I was deeply saddened by the ill-informed and quite frankly ignorant comments of Brian Binley MP regarding his opinion about the rise in food bank charitable activity.

“This is in the same week we saw the Bishop of Oxford attempt to deliver David Cameron a letter on food banks and a call for all parties to work together to address food poverty.

“Recently we have seen the release of a key report which evidences a direct causal link between the increase of food banks and the changes and cuts to the benefits system. One in five people (13 million) now live below the poverty line.

“The report, ‘Walking the Breadline’, highlights causes of the increase in use of food banks which include changes to the benefit system, unemployment , increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, rising food and fuel prices.

“Northamptonshire Community Foundation in its community leadership role has supported the investment in and development of the Northamptonshire Food Poverty Network working with a range of Food Banks and community groups and charities that are working hard to help lift people out of food poverty.

“Last year we held a Food Poverty Symposium on their behalf attended by a range of stakeholders, from charities, local authorities and businesses. It was an education for many in the room and a disbelief that food poverty is happening in 21st century; but it is.

“During the event stereotypes and stigmas around those who need recourse to a Food Bank were deconstructed and a deeper understanding of the causes at play. The reality is many people in receipt of the support a food bank are working on low wages and zero contracts or are being impacted by measures such as the bedroom tax carrying an extra financial burden for those already struggling on limited budgets. The network also goes further than that. It provides other services and works with other referral agencies to help people which may include debt counselling and other forms of advice and support, health and welfare groups and charities providing volunteering and upskilling opportunities.

“It’s important to also point out that many of us are perhaps one, two or three pay cheques away from being in a similar situation were we to suddenly lose our jobs due to redundancy or ill health. Often people are in disbelief that food poverty is happening because it isn’t happening to them. However we could all so easily find ourselves in a similar situation due to a range of circumstances.

“Charitable and Voluntary sector activity exists as a safety net for us all and I’m glad because it’s what makes us a truly civil society and the amount of grassroots community groups on our doorstep is truly inspiring. This lifeline is important to recognise because lack of money can stop people from being able to take part in social activities and impacts the way that people are talked about and treated in everyday life - in the media, by officials and across society at large.

“It is in the interests of Brian Binley MP as a representative of the people of the constituency Northampton South take himself on a journey of becoming more educated about the economic and social issues impacting on his constituents. I suggest he takes a day to volunteer and visit a local food bank and get to see and hear the stories of the people in crisis accessing their services because as we say to the many donors we work with when taking them on a project visit: ‘seeing is believing’.”

Kevin McKeever, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Northampton South, has also responded to remarks by Tory MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, referring to food bank users as “free loaders”.

He said: “I am surprised to hear Brian Binley so casually dismiss the rise in use of food banks. Just last month I visited Northampton Food Bank and saw first-hand the sterling work being done by the charity and its volunteers. Far from “free loaders”, food bank users are referred from a number of professional agencies and are limited to four visits a year.

“I’ve spoken to both workers and users of food banks in Northampton, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet: tightening benefit rules and the insecure local jobs market mean demand for food banks is still rising. It’s clear that the much trumpeted economic recovery is not being felt on the ground in Northampton.”