FORMER Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire after talking about volunteering at an Oxfordshire 'food bank' during lockdown.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said she was surprised he had the 'brass neck to show his face' at the Chipping Norton initiative given the role he played in austerity, which has been linked with the rapid growth of food banks.

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West Oxfordshire district councillor Mike Cahill, who is a Labour member for Chipping Norton, agreed, saying: "I just wish politicians who caused the need for food banks wouldn't use them for photo opportunities."

But Conservative county councillor Hilary Hibbert-Biles, who also represents the town, said the ex-MP would be criticised 'whatever he does' adding: "I think we should welcome volunteers whoever they are with open arms. I say good on him."

Witney Gazette:
Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday, Mr Cameron, who has a family home in Dean near Chipping Norton, said: "My wife was battling hard to save and promote her fashion business, I was working less than that. And so I cooked all the meals."

He added: “And I worked for the Chipping Norton Food Bank actually one or two days a week, which was great to do something to help people who were really isolated and stuck at home.”

There was some confusion over where Mr Cameron had volunteered though, with the co-ordinator of Chipping Norton Food Bank telling inews it had not been with them.

The ex-Witney MP had actually helped out at Chippy Larder, a project set up in March to provide low-cost food items for people in the area, where he was photographed by The Oxford Mail in April.

It has a subscription service with members currently paying £3.50 for 10 items or £7 for 20 items per week.

Speaking to this paper at the time, he said: “I’d been helping St Mary’s Church and they told me about the Chippy Larder.

“What’s amazing is that more volunteers are joining in – the Big Society is alive and well in West Oxfordshire.

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“It’s been interesting walking around Chipping Norton and the streets where I used to canvas, and it’s been nice to reconnect with those communities."

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said it was 'unfortunate' the former prime minister 'seems to be confused about where he volunteered' but Chippy Larder did 'some excellent work in their community and will always need volunteers'.

She added: "The real issue is that so many people rely on food banks at all. This pandemic has brought so many challenges, especially for those who were already struggling to put food on the table.

Witney Gazette:

"And it has highlighted how many people in our community are in desperate need."

Mr Cameron was criticised by many on social media for 'boasting' about his volunteering when the policies he pursued as Prime Minister are seen as directly linked with the need for such services.

Starting in 2009, the UK witnessed a rapid rise in food banks. The number of local authorities with food banks operated by the Trussell Trust, jumped from 29 in 2009/10 to 251 in 2013/14.

An Oxford University study in 2015 found the mass expansion of food banks across the UK was associated with cuts in spending on local services, welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates.

At the time, Dr Rachel Loopstra of Oxford University’s Sociology department, the paper’s lead author, said: "These data reveal a picture of the UK where religious charities are trying to plug the gaps left from cuts in government support."

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Following the former PM's interview, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “David Cameron talks about visiting a food bank like it’s a nice day out.

"In one of the richest countries in the world people are reliant on food banks because of the political choices he made.

"As the architect of austerity I can’t believe he had the brass neck to show his face."

A spokesperson for Chippy Larder said it was its policy not to comment on volunteers.