A Burntwood councillor has blasted the leader of Staffordshire County Council after he questioned why a foodbank was not offering more fresh vegetables.
Cllr Philip Atkins made his comments on social media after responding to a post about volunteers working at a facility in Rugeley.
Over an image of the donated goods at the foodbanks, Cllr Atkins wrote: “No fresh vegetables though to help people appreciate good, healthy and reasonably priced eating habits – all processed or tinned.
“We need home economics on how to cook a reasonably-priced mean to be taught in schools, not microwave meals.”
But his words have been criticised by Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the opposition Labour group at the county council, who accused him of showing “ignorance” to the issues.
Cllr Woodward, whose seat covers the Cannock and District Foodbank based at Emmanuel Church in Burntwood said: “I was shocked by Cllr Atkins’ arrogance towards those who run foodbanks in Staffordshire and those who have been forced by the policies of his party to use them.
“He implies that foodbank users don’t know how to cook and that foodbanks are supplying unhealthy foods.
“His arrogance is only matched by his ignorance.
“He appears to have no idea of the way foodbanks operate, of the people who find themselves having to use them or the reasons behind the level of need in the county.
“He should get out and find out before making such comments and I’d be happy to show him how things work here.”
Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust reported a 19% increase in the use of Foodbanks.
Cllr Woodward added: “It is clearly very difficult for foodbanks and their donors to hold significant stores of fresh produce but I’m aware of schemes in my area which certainly do use fresh vegetables to provide healthy meals including local lunch clubs.
“Another excellent local example is Sparky’s Den at Spark Children’s Centre, an after-school club providing freshly-cooked evening meals.
“When people in need really do have to choose between heating and eating, these comments show just how out of touch the Tories are, locally and nationally.”
Esther Allen, from Spark Children’s Centre, said she hoped Cllr Atkins would come and see first hand the challenges facing foodbanks and their users.
“It is unfortunate the leader of our county council is unaware of the struggles facing many families in Staffordshire,” she said.
“Foodbank users are often facing multiple issues connected with a housing crisis, poor physical or mental health, delayed universal credit payments, debt, benefits being declined, a relationship breakdown or domestic violence.
“Many are busy working a low paid or zero hour contract, or juggling multiple part time jobs.
“When you are trying to make ends meet, suggesting that foodbank users need educating in cooking and budgeting is insulting.
“Families are not using foodbanks because they don’t know how to cook – rather because they have nothing to cook.
“Also suggesting that foodbanks should be distributing fresh goods is completely impractical in the way that foodbanks receive and distribute their donations.”
“Foodbanks should not exist”
Esther added that rather than criticise the work of local volunteers, Cllr Atkins should focus on why such facilities are needed in the first place.
“Our local Cannock and District Foodbank does a fantastic job which we are really grateful for,” she said. “However foodbanks should not exist.
“It is unfortunate Cllr Atkins is suggesting foodbanks are not doing a good enough job when they are largely staffed by passionate and dedicated volunteers relying on the good will of the general public.
“Foodbanks offer a warm non-judgemental welcome and signposting and further support if required.
“I have invited Councillor Atkins to come to our Spark Children’s Centre in Burntwood and talk to families affected by these issues.
“Of course education for everyone in healthy eating and cooking is fantastic and should be common place in schools.
“I would like to highlight and thank wonderful volunteers at Spark who run an after school tea club cooking healthy food from scratch with the help of donations from our local supermarkets.”