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Tory hunger hypocrisy

MP who voted for social security cuts and against free school meals complains of ‘intolerable hunger’ in the home counties

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

A SENIOR Tory backbencher was accused of hypocrisy today after he railed at “intolerable hunger” in the home counties despite having voted for cuts to social security and against extending free school meals.

Wycombe MP Steve Baker warned ministers of a cost of living crisis in seats such as his, where he said people have been “tipped over the edge” financially by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Mr Baker urged ministers to abandon plans to end the temporary £20 uplift to universal credit (UC) in September, with Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey known to be uneasy about the move as a Tory rebellion grows.

The Buckinghamshire MP said that retaining the increase wasn’t enough and that an overhaul to the benefit was needed to remove the five-week wait for a first payment, a measure blamed for pushing people into debt.

His comments came after a University of Sheffield study identified Wycombe, which is in one of the country’s most affluent areas, as having the highest levels of food insecurity in Britain.

About 14 per cent of residents in the former district, which includes the town of High Wycombe, reported going hungry in January and February, while about a third struggled to afford food.

A combination of low pay, high housing costs, debt, and coronavirus disruption has hit residents hard, in a trend repeated across the country.

Mr Baker told the Guardian: “This alarming report is a wake-up call for ministers. I have told colleagues time and again that poverty extends into my constituency.”

But Labour figures joined with campaigners in blasting his comments as “too little, too late” after his previous support for cuts to social security and his prediction that free school meals would “destroy the economy.”

Khalil Ahmed, a former Labour candidate in Wycombe, pointed out that the former Brexit minister was “part of the problem, and now he’s presenting himself as part of the solution.”

In response, Mr Baker said he was not going to justify all of the “difficult decisions” he has made since becoming an MP in 2010.

Despite his apparent concern over poverty, he added that his concerns about levels of government borrowing meant that he is still unlikely to rebel in votes on financial matters.

Mr Baker’s call for action conveniently came just days after a YouGov poll showed that the Tories could be at risk of losing up to 16 “blue wall” seats in southern England at the next general election, including Wycombe.

People’s Assembly national organiser Ramona McCartney told the Morning Star that record poverty levels are the result of the “disastrous policies rolled out by the likes of Steve Baker and the rest of the Tories” after more than a decade of spending cuts.

“The impact of austerity on our society is very serious,” she said. “People are under worse pressure than ever before thanks to [the] lack of funding to essential services.

“Let’s never forget that it is the Tories who are the architects of this crisis.”

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the Morning Star: "The government is tying itself in knots. A public sector pay freeze, income tax hikes, cutting UC, and winding down furlough prematurely are all austerity measures. Levelling up is just cynical PR with those policies."

Former Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery urged Tory MPs to “have the guts” to join the growing revolt against the UC cut, adding: “Do these people understand what £20 means to families the length and breadth of this country?

“I suggest they individually look at themselves in the mirror and take stock of what 11 years of austerity has done to our communities,” he told the Star.

“We’ll continue the campaigning regardless of where the hunger is and not just when it impacts on our next-door neighbours.

“Every child, every human being, deserves the right to food.”

In a statement, the government said that ministers’ multibillion-pound plan for jobs will “support people in the long-term” after the UC uplift ends.

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