Stoke & Staffordshire

Staffordshire councillor in food poverty row

A Staffordshire councillor has been criticised after lashing out at claims some people in the UK were "starving".

In a row on Twitter, Conservative councillor James Bannister responded angrily to comments by Labour MP Karl Turner that people were forced to use foodbanks to survive.

Mr Bannister posted a photo of an African woman with a severely malnourished child to make his point.

He said many people on benefits chose to spend money on drugs and alcohol.

Tweeting from the Labour Party conference in Manchester, Labour MP for Hull East Karl Turner said it was a "disgrace" that people were being referred by job centres to foodbanks and that many of them were "starving".

Responding, Newcastle-under-Lyme councillor Mr Bannister said in his experience of being unemployed, job centres were often "hubs for drugs" and added that "starving people at job centres should have spent their benefits on fresh veg instead of fast food".

Mr Bannister later posted tips on how to eat on a budget and added that he financially supported a family in East Africa, which was why he found the word starving "despicable"

Children 'starving'

Mr Turner admitted that he might have used the word "too flippantly", but accused Mr Bannister of posting a photo of what appeared to be a "corpse child" to "make a political point".

"What sort of benchmark does Councillor Bannister think we should have," he added.

Kirsty Scullion, a trustee for the Stoke-on-Trent foodbank said while the situation in the city could not be compared with some areas of Africa, there was a genuine problem in the city.

"We are talking significant hunger, so yes I would say we've got families, particularly children, who can be described as starving, simply because they're malnourished.

"In many cases it's families who genuinely can't afford [to buy food]."

The Department of Work and Pensions said it had not received any complaints about anyone dealing in drugs at Newcastle-under-Lyme or any other job centre.

Ms Scullion said in the five months the foodbank had been operating it had fed more than 1,300 families and individuals, from a wide range of backgrounds.

"Many of those are people who have lost their jobs and the benefits haven't kicked in yet."

She said she was "saddened" by Mr Bannister's "aggressive" comments.

"I do think he needs to have done his research, have a full understanding of what the needs are in the city and perhaps come out and speak to the food bank directly," she added.

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