Portsmouth councillor disputes poverty figures after seeing a food bank user buying cigarettes and scratchcards

A Portsmouth councillor has disputed findings that poverty levels in the city are rising because he claims he saw a food bank user buying “a fistful of scratchcards”.
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At a recent cabinet decision meeting, Portsmouth City Council members discussed poverty and the cost of living crisis when assessing the council’s annual public health report for 2023. The report highlights poverty as a public health issue, how it’s being worsened by the cost of living crisis and the impacts it is having on residents in the city.

When introducing the report, assistant director of public health Matthew Gummerson said “between a quarter and a third” of Portsmouth children are growing up in impoverished households and that the education attainment gap between pupils with free school meals and those without “is larger than the gap nationally”.

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The report also said Portsmouth has the second highest proportion of children in the South East region living in households with an income 60 per cent below the median income – otherwise known as “absolute poverty”.

A number of people are turning to foodbanksA number of people are turning to foodbanks
A number of people are turning to foodbanks

Portsmouth Independent Party councillor Brian Madgwick criticised the findings, using an anecdote involving a woman he recognised at a food bank purchasing cigarettes and a “fistful of scratch cards”.

He said: “That woman is probably getting down, getting every benefit going – they’re moaning about how much food they get, it’s something that annoys me but I don’t know how to control it and I don’t know where you get your figures from.

“Hate to see poverty figures rising when I don’t believe they are because if you can afford a handful of scratch cards you’re not in poverty.”

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In response, Claire Currie, assistant director of public health, stressed “it’s very difficult to understand people’s individual circumstances” which could be complicated by issues such as addiction or domestic abuse.

Cllr Matthew Winnington, cabinet member for community wellbeing, health and care, added: “Having worked in an advisory role at a foodbank in the past I would say the amount of people that abuse it is very small.

“The vast majority of people are in dire need of the food, unfortunately, some people lie and that’s the reality of it – there’s not much you can do about it.”