Jacob Rees-Mogg has described the increased prevalence of food banks as a “rather uplifting” show of charity, arguing the only reason for the rise in their use is that the former Labour government did not tell people they existed.
“I think there is good within food banks and the real reason for the rise in numbers is that people know that they’re there, and Labour deliberately wouldn’t tell them,” the Conservative backbencher told LBC radio.
Asked on LBC about moves to make the morning-after pill more easily available to women, Rees-Mogg, a Catholic and father of six, described this as “a great sadness”.
Challenged by a caller about the increased use of food banks – the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank network, said it handed out record amounts of supplies last year, in part due to increased benefit delays – Rees-Mogg argued they fulfilled a vital function.
“I don’t think the state can do everything,” he said. “It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work.
“And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”
Rees-Mogg said the reason more people were using food banks was a Conservative reversal of a previous Labour policy to stop people knowing they existed.
“Food banks pre-date the Conservative government and crucially, the change that took place was that the Conservative government allowed Jobcentre Plus to tell people that food banks existed,” he said.
“And the former Labour government would not tell them – and that was a policy decision to stop people knowing that there was help available.”
Labour said it rejected this argument. Ian Lavery, a Labour MP and the party’s national campaign coordinator, said: “The real reason people are going to food banks in record numbers is because the Tories have slashed public sector jobs and living standards over the last seven years, plunging more families into poverty and homelessness.
“This kind of comment shows Jacob Rees-Mogg really is the dictionary definition of an out-of-touch Tory.”
Garry Lemon, the head of media at the Trussell Trust, said: “Everyone who comes to a Trussell Trust food bank is referred by a frontline worker, like a health visitor, but in the last year only 5% of the record 1.2 million three-day emergency food supplies were given out because of a Jobcentre Plus referral.
“Our recent research with the University of Oxford found that, before being referred to a food bank, people are getting by on an average of just £319 a month. Food banks on the ground tell us the same – people are in real need, and it is clear that the dramatic rise in food bank use over the past five years cannot be attributed to awareness alone.
He said more needed to be done at all levels of government to both recognise and find solutions to the issues that drove people to use food banks.
“We agree that the work of volunteers and voluntary organisations is uplifting, but food banks are an emergency service and whilst they do all they can to offer support to people in crisis they cannot solve structural problems alone.”
During the phone-in, Rees-Mogg also insisted he had no leadership ambitions.
“I have no wish to become leader of the Conservative party. I’m fully supporting Mrs May,” he said. “I am completely backing Mrs May and no one serious thinks that I am a credible candidate.”
Asked what cabinet job he would most like, Rees-Mogg said: “That’s not going to happen.”
He said May had been asked in a radio interview if she might place him in the cabinet, and “she laughed for the longest amount of time she has laughed since the general election”.
He added: “I was delighted to bring some happiness and joy to our distinguished prime minister, but that’s how seriously she takes it.”
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th September 2017 16.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010