Lee Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield, says that there is no need for food banks in this country – the issue is simply that people do not know how to cook from scratch. “You’ve got generation after generation who cannot cook properly. They can’t cook a meal from scratch. They cannot budget”, Anderson told the Commons.
Anderson has already been widely criticised and ridiculed for his comments, not least from the person who literally wrote the book on how to cook on an austerity-tightened budget – anti-poverty campaigner, Jack Monroe. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than Jack, who remarked, “You can’t cook meals from scratch with nothing. You can’t buy cheap food with nothing … The square root of f**k all is ALWAYS going to be f**k all, no matter how creatively you’re told to dice it”. So I don’t think there’s anything left for me to add on that subject.
I will, however, tentatively suggest that Anderson may have a point. What the events of the last week or so have shown us is that some people – MPs in particular – appear to be lacking some basic skills. Budgeting being a key one.
Anderson claimed that it is perfectly possible to feed a family on meals costing 30p a day, as demonstrated at his local food bank, where a team of volunteers spent £50 on food from a supermarket for meal preparation for a week. He thereby showed a distinct lack of understanding of what being poor actually involves – specifically, not having £50 to spend, nor a team of volunteers to help and an industrial kitchen to prepare and store said meals.
We also found out that Chancellor Rishi Sunak doesn’t know how to work the government’s computer system and therefore will be unable to increase benefits any time soon. Nadine Dorries MP wasn’t aware that she shouldn’t share her Netflix subscription with multiple different households. Boris Johnson, the man who doesn’t know the difference between a work meeting and a party, apparently cannot concentrate in the presence of women who have legs. And ministers are now openly admitting that they had absolutely no clue what the Brexit agreement they fought so hard for would actually mean for trade with Northern Ireland.
Cheap meals for MPs…
Whilst Anderson believes poor people don’t need foodbanks, he and every other MP can take advantage of subsidised meals in the House of Commons at a cost to the public purse of over £17m over the last three years. While the rest of us battle rising costs of food (and everything else), the cost of a meal in the members’ dining room has gone down (a three-course meal can be had for just £10.41). They are also able to access generous expense accounts – Anderson himself claimed just under £220,000 on expenses from 2020 to 2021, on top of his £84,144 p/a salary.
When MPs’ salaries were first introduced in 1911, the reason was to allow ordinary working people to take up positions in parliament. Up until this point, only people from wealthy families who didn’t need to work could afford to become a Member of Parliament, meaning that ordinary people were not represented by their, well, representatives. Of course, this needed to change.
… and more cash too
The trouble is, we allowed MPs to set their own salary and left them to it. At the start of 1996, the basic salary for an MP was just over £34,000. Now it’s over £84,000 – an increase of £50,000 in just 26 years. Meanwhile, the average person in the UK earns just over £38,000.
So, we now have a situation where only wealthy people are Members of Parliament (our chancellor even made the Sunday Times Rich List), and ordinary people are not very well represented by their representatives. Maybe that’s why MPs don’t see a problem with wasting nearly £9bn on unusable PPE. And why £6bn worth of Covid fraud doesn’t seem worth pursuing.
As Anderson said, people just don’t understand how to budget.
Let them eat sandwiches
The argument for paying these exorbitant salaries has always been that this is the only way that we will attract the best and brightest to become MPs. Given the state of play described above, I think we can all agree that we’ve monumentally failed to attract the best and brightest anyway. Perhaps instead we should now focus on attracting people who want the job to benefit this country, rather than to line their own pockets.
It’s time that MPs earned a salary in line with the people they represent so that they can understand what life is like for real people in the UK. It’s time their expense accounts were reduced to allow for only genuinely reasonable expenses (to be policed by independent authorities).
It’s time they learned to make their own sandwiches and no longer had access to subsidised meals while their constituents are literally starving. I agree with Lee Anderson wholeheartedly – these people need to learn to cook from scratch.