Supermarket fights over cheap veg

Tesco is having to put on extra security as poor people are fighting each other for reduced fruit and vegetables, a former minister claimed today.

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A former minister says poor people are fighting each other for reduced fruit and veg

Tesco is having to put on extra security as poor people are fighting each other for reduced fruit and vegetables, a former minister claimed today.

Labour's Fiona Mactaggart told the Commons a constituent had reported seeing shoppers fighting on three separate occasions when discounted items were brought out at a Tesco store in Slough, Berkshire.

Ms Mactaggart, a minister during Tony Blair's tenure as prime minister, questioned if this was a "shocking sign in the 21st century".

The MP for Slough, intervening during a debate on food banks, told shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle: " I wanted to inform you and the Commons that people aren't only depending on food banks, that poor people in Slough are now fighting each other in Tesco when the discount vegetables and fruit come out...

"My constituent texted me yesterday to say he had observed these fights on three separate occasions when the discount fruit and vegetables came out and that Tesco is now having to put security on to deal with that.

"Isn't that a shocking sign in the 21st century?"

Ms Eagle replied: "That is a shocking fact."

Introducing the debate, Ms Eagle said: " Is there a more damning indictment of this Government's record than the number of people relying on food aid in this country?

"Already since April this year over 500,000 people have relied on assistance from the 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust charity, double the number of food banks compared to this time last year.

"Half a million people - and one third of those are children - in Britain, the seventh richest country on the planet, in the 21st century. It's a scandal and it's getting worse."

Conservative Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) told Ms Eagle she seemed to be placing responsibility for all of this at the door of the Coalition.

He continued: "Are you aware the excellent food bank in Farnborough was established in 2009 as the 49th Trussell Trust food bank and that therefore it illustrates it was the destruction of the public finances by your government which has been responsible for the disaster which has affected this country?"

Ms Eagle replied: "I agree that some food banks were established before the last election. There are 400 established by the Trussell Trust now rather than 49.

"By the time we left office, 40,000 were visiting food banks - a ten-fold increase over the 4,000 at the start.

"There are now 500,000 people - that is an exponentially larger figure and it is correct that this House seeks to find out what the real cause of that increase.

"It's a scandal which is getting worse and t he Government now has the humiliation of the Red Cross helping to collect and distribute food aid in Britain for the first time since the Second World War."

Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey said Germany and Canada also had a high number of people relying on food banks.

She said: "As we are saying, it is positive that people are reaching out to support other people - from church groups to community groups, to local supermarkets and other groups.

"In the UK it is right that more people are... going to food banks because as times are tough, we are all having to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally which spiralled under Labour, we are all trying to live within our means, change the gear and make sure that we pay back all our debt which happened under them."

Conservative MP Laura Sandys (South Thanet) said: "Food banks are not the answer. They must be seen as a transitional support mechanism for families in stress at particular moments.

"They are not a solution or something we want institutionalised. Sometimes I feel on the Opposition benches we have got a relish about the number of food banks.

"If the Opposition mentioned some of the key reasons why we have a perfect storm that is particularly hitting those on low incomes and those on benefits we might start to get to a series of solutions."

In response to Ms Mactaggart's comments about extra supermarket security when cheap fruit and vegetables are sold in its Slough store, a Tesco spokeswoman said: " The reduced to clear offers at the end of the day are really popular with our customers, so when the store is busy we have colleagues on hand to manage the reductions to make sure all our customers can shop safely."

Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams (Arfon) said people often use food banks because their benefits have not been paid either as a result of a mistake or they have been sanctioned, sometimes wrongly.

The Department for Work and Pensions can suspend a claimant's Jobseekers' Allowance if it judges they have failed to do enough to find work, turned down jobs offered to them or not turned up to appointments.

Mr Williams told the Commons: "A man came to see me on Monday. He had been sanctioned, he had no money, he had been called for an interview but wasn't able to go because he had to take his very seriously ill wife to hospital for cancer treatment, and he couldn't be 30 miles away at the same time - a nd he was sanctioned."

Labour's Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) shared a similar story, telling Mr Williams: "A gentleman in my constituency faced exactly the same.

"He was sanctioned, albeit he was in hospital for a heart condition, and he lived for a further three days on field mushrooms and borrowed eggs.

"Is that what we want to say in the UK in 2013/2014?"

Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend, added to Mr Williams: "I wonder if you have also found that the working poor are also finding it difficult to get basic products?

"My food bank has told me that sometimes they are having people talking to staff quietly and saying, 'Do you actually have toilet paper? Do you have sanitary products?'.

"It's not just food, it's the expensive other products."

Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) said many of his constituents would be disappointed that Ms McVey showed "absolutely no contrition whatsoever" for the big rise in food banks under the coalition Government.

He said: "The issue before us is not whether food banks existed four or five years ago, the issue before us is the sheer explosion in the number of food banks and increased demand for food banks in the last 18 months."

Conservative Robert Halfon (Harlow) told Mr Ashworth: "No-one denies that there is a problem. But would you not accept that this Government is doing everything possible to alleviate that problem?

"That is why they have introduced free school meals for children in the first three years of primary school, they've extended free meals to poorer students who go to FE (further education) colleges, they've frozen the council tax, frozen fuel duty, trying to cut energy bills, linking the basic state pension with earnings.

"Is this not real examples of how the Government is helping with the cost of living?"

Mr Ashworth countered that Mr Halfon had to recognise there is an ongoing cost of living crisis and increasingly people in work and on benefits are using food banks.

Tory MP John Glen (Salisbury) said it was too simple to try and blame the Government's changes to the benefits system, including the withdrawal of handouts, for the increasing food bank usage.

He said it was also "regrettable" the relationship between the Trussell Trust and the Department for Work and Pensions had broken down.

Mr Glen said: "The reality is that underneath all the motivations for people going to the Trussell Trust and other food banks across the country, are a whole number of issues which lead to a chaotic situation where people find themselves in a great state of debt and do not have the financial management skills to know how to prioritise spending.

"I am not saying that this is in every case but I think we need to be honest about the breadth of the problems that individuals using food banks face."

The Labour motion was defeated 294 to 251, majority 43.