Members of the Armed Force are using food banks because of “personal decisions around how people are budgeting”, according to the UK veterans minister.
Sky News’ defence editor, Deborah Haynes, reported last month that some military personnel and their families had been forced to use the centres as high inflation and rising costs tipped them into crisis.
But on the day Johnny Mercer announced a new phoneline to give support to homeless ex-servicemen and women, the minister cast doubt on whether those currently in the military required such services.
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Asked by Sky News’ Kay Burley if there is “any need” for military personnel to use food banks, he said: “These are personal decisions around, you know, how people are budgeting every month.
“I don’t want to see anyone using foodbanks, of course I don’t, but we’re you know, we’re in an extremely difficult time around cost of living.
“I’ll always advocate for service personnel to get paid more. I’d be mad not to. But it has to be, you know, within the constraints of a budget.”
When Burley suggested it was not a “choice” when people used food banks, Mr Mercer replied: “Well, in my experience, that’s not correct.
“I think there are some dire cases that we need to do more to wrap our arms around and make sure that there is a safety net for people.
“[But] I don’t think food bank use is an accurate portrayal of where levels of poverty, relative or absolute poverty, are in this country.”
The veterans minister added: “I don’t want to see anybody using food banks, but, you know, I think that being in the military still affords you a good wage and a good quality of life. And, you know, and that will continue to be the case.”
‘Things are going to get better’
Mr Mercer was also asked about wider economic issues, and he backed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s previous comments that the country needs to “hold its nerve” in the face of rising inflation and interest rates.
“The truth is… we are in a global market and interest rates around the world are going up and inflation is a global problem,” he said: “I think we’ve got to be honest with people about what actually brings that down.
“The prime minister is absolutely right that we have to hold our nerve on this and continue to bring [inflation] down. There’s nothing given about inflation coming down. You actually have to do something.
“You have to make difficult decisions and you have to be honest with people. And that is what he has always been and that is what he’s being now.”
The minister said many looked for “smooth outcomes and quick answers” on these issues, but “there isn’t one”.
He added: “We all, every single day, we wake up in Whitehall and we’re like, what are we going to do about inflation? Because we see the impact it’s having in our communities.
“[The PM is] absolutely right. Interest rates have gone up now. We need to hold our nerve and things are going to get better. We’re going through a difficult time, but things are going to get better.”