A councillor came under fire for saying some people using food banks had their priorities wrong.
Comments by Conservative councillor Joe Miller, who quoted a food bank volunteer, were described as “balderdash” at an online meeting yesterday (Wednesday 3 March).
His comments came as councillors discussed whether to write to the government asking for a “right to food” to be made a legal right.
Councillor Miller said that Green and Labour councillors should have amended Brighton and Hove City Council’s recently set budget if they wanted more money put into supporting those in food poverty.
Quoting a volunteer at the Whitehawk Food Bank, he said: “Her view is that some people who use that food bank – and this is pre-covid, granted, and this is not me saying this – ‘have their priorities wrong.’ That is sometimes the case.
“I agree it is a sad state of affairs that people have to use food banks when they can’t afford to eat and they fall on hard times. It’s why it’s there. It’s why charities are there.”
Councillor Miller said that writing to the government about this was a waste of the council chief executive’s time and that the state should not do everything instead of charities.
Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that amending the council’s budget was not the only way to tackle food poverty in Brighton and Hove.
He said that the council provided a “significant amount” to the City Food Partnership, communities and the voluntary sector.
Councillor Yates said that he would not comment on the “balderdash” from Councillor Miller which he said was “embarrassing”.
Labour opposition leader Nancy Platts said that she was “astonished” by Councillor Miller’s comments.
She said that the same groups of people were falling into poverty as it was linked with education, overcrowded housing, precarious work and low incomes.
Councillor Platts said: “What I have just heard is the harshest and least sympathetic outpouring of nonsense ever.
“It just shows the most astounding lack of understanding and no empathy whatsoever for the people in this city who are struggling and fighting to survive, who cannot feed their kids and put food on the table.”
Councillor Platts said that she had split her “ward budget” of £1,000 between the Whitehawk and Craven Vale food banks.
The Whitehawk Food Bank is supported by the Trussell Trust and has running costs of £95,000 a year.
On Wednesday 8 January last year, the Whitehawk Food Bank supplied 23 food parcels to 48 people, 12 of them children, the meeting was told.
By December, this had risen to 127 food parcels, feeding 324 people, 121 of whom were children.
Councillor Platts called for a long-term approach, offering food banks rent-free spaces and potentially allotments to grow fresh food.
There are currently 30 food banks and hubs operating in Brighton and Hove. Ten opened last year and four opened this year.
A further 10 food co-ops and 11 community meal projects are also operating in the city.
Green councillor Hannah Clare said that it was sad to see how many food banks had started in Brighton and Hove in the past year.
In her ward, Brunswick and Adelaide, a “pop up” food bank was initially set up for eight weeks at the Cornerstone Community Centre in Hove in response to the covid winter grant scheme.
She said: “In the second week, they had more than 100 families come and visit this new food hub.
“They came to us and said, ‘we need to think about long-term sustainability for this.’ There is clearly a need.”
Both Councillor Clare and her fellow Brunswick and Adelaide ward councillor, Phélim Mac Cafferty, each gave £500 of their ward budget to keep the food bank going through April. But she said that she was not sure how it would manage beyond then.
She said that the council needed to find more ways to support food banks, not least because the government’s furlough scheme had been extended until September.
At the council’s Policy and Resources (Recovery) Sub-Committee yesterday, councillors voted to ask the government to incorporate the right to food in the National Food Strategy and in law.
They also agreed to draw up long-term food policies, working with the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and the Greater Brighton Economic Board.
These could include ensuring the region has a secure food economy, putting food at the heart of tourism in Brighton and Hove and possibly even using 4,400 acres of council-owned farmland for food production.
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