NEW FOREST WEST MP Sir Desmond Swayne has been attacked for claiming that poor people “are amongst the fattest” in society and need to be taught how to shop and budget better.
Sir Desmond, who won New Forest West for the Conservatives at the general election, made the comments on his website in response to the issue of food banks having been raised repeatedly at local hustings events.
He wrote: “The shocking statistic is that one in five of our children is obese by the time they leave primary school, and that this disproportionately affects those children in the lowest household in-comes.
“To put it bluntly (and in the terms that elicited shouts of protest at the hustings): the poorest are amongst the fattest.
“The conclusion that I draw is that their families need, in addition to welfare payments, help with how to shop more cost effectively and healthily.”
Sir Desmond’s views were criticised as “completely separated from reality” by Cllr Jack Davies, the Liberal Democrat contender who came second at the general election by just over 24,400 votes.
Cllr Davies said: “It is the policies of his government which have made life so much harder than it used to be for working class people across the country and across the New Forest.
“We need our MP to recognise the consequences of government decisions on the people he represents. It is clear from his comments that this Conservative MP does not have a clue.”
Labour Ringwood town councillor John Haywood added: “It seems that Sir Desmond Swayne doesn’t to want to help society’s most vulnerable but instead would rather blame them.”
As reported in the A&T, the Lymington-based New Forest Basics Bank has reported growing demand for its supplies, and has blamed the jobs market and problems with Universal Credit.
In 2019 it supported about 2,540 people, sending out more than 1,980 parcels after referrals by around 60 agencies, such as the Job Centre, Citizen’s Advice and Hampshire County Council’s homelessness team.
Basics Bank chair Oliver Stanley: “Whilst we agree that often cheap food can be a factor of poor diet high in sugar, which can in turn lead to the prevalence of obesity, we would not agree that all on benefits are without the wit or intelligence to manage their own money.
“We see clients in crisis, some overweight, some not, but all need to be helped out of crisis for reasons which vary according to circumstances, and for the most part are complex.
“Being too poorly paid to buy healthy fresh food is a contributory factor, school sporting timetables being cut is another and lack of education around cooking basic nutritious food is another area which could be addressed.”
He added: “There are many opportunities to improve health, but how one spends one’s benefits isn’t necessarily relevant in the debate.”
In his blog Sir Desmond reported surprise from hustings audiences when he said food banks were a “proper and welcome response by voluntary organisations and individuals” to a need that is difficult for the government to address.
He added: “It is significant that government figures show that most food bank users have not applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment in the six months prior to their referral to a food bank.
“The explanation may be that they were simply unaware of the benefit, or that the crisis that caused them to be referred to a food bank arose at such short notice.”
New Forest Basics Bank is currently fundraising to move from its current premises at Lymington United Reformed Church to a bigger base further down the high street.