Food poverty report leads to call by MPs for more prompt payment of benefits

Tory baroness criticised for saying poor people do not know how to cook

Benefits in the United Kingdom should be paid more quickly to people whose circumstances change if hundreds of thousands are to avoid having to go to food banks to feed their families, MPs have said.

Secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith yesterday refused to accept an invitation to attend the launch of a report into food poverty drawn up by an all-party committee of MPs and members of the House of Lords.

However, the Conservatives were embarrassed within minutes at the Westminster launch when Baroness Anne Jenkin said part of the problem is caused because “poor people don’t know how to cook”.

She said: “We have lost our cooking skills. Poor people don’t know how to cook. I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p.


“A large bowl of sugary cereals will cost you 25p.”

Questioned later, she said she had chosen her words carelessly: “What I meant was, as a society, we have lost our ability to cook or that seems no longer to be handed down in the way that it was previously by previous generations . . .

“If people today – and I mean society as a whole – had the cooking skills that previous generations had, they wouldn’t be eating, none of us would be eating so much pre-prepared food,” she said.

The report recommends increases in the minimum wage, “yellow card” warnings for benefit claimants that they are in danger of losing payments because they are not following rules and more efforts to end child hunger in schools.

Labour MP Jenny Chapman later said unemployed people in her Darlington constituency are being told by benefit offices to leave "their nine- and 10-year-old children at home, unsupervised" during holidays to attend State-ordered training.

In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said people in need of benefits – who can sometimes wait for 16 weeks for their first payments to come through – will be given information about emergency payments that are available.

Significant welfare cuts will be made after next May's election, regardless of whether the Conservatives or Labour win. Insisting that cuts will continue, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne predicted below-inflation wage rises for four years for public workers.

“This country has to live within its means. We have to have a government we can afford as a country,” said Mr Osborne, who was taken aback by the criticism that greeted his budget plans last week.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times