Politician Ann Widdicombe's comments that families struggling to afford the ingredients for a cheese sandwich during the cost of living crisis just should not have one have been slammed as cruel and "out of touch".
The Reform UK party member - who was an MEP for the short-lived Brexit Party - made the controversial comments during an appearance on BBC's Politics Live programme on Tuesday, during a panel discussion on food inflation.
Widdecombe was asked what she would say to consumers who were struggling to afford the basics, like the ingredients needed to make a cheese sandwich at home - after BBC research showed they had increased by a third this year to 40p per serving.
"Then you don't do the cheese sandwich," she said. Fellow panellist Rachel Cunliffe of the New Statesman objected, saying they were talking about absolutely essential, basic food items families were no longer able to afford, and referenced recent Sky News reports some parents had been forced to resort to stealing infant formula, or their babies would go hungry.
Widdecombe responded: "None of it's new, we've been through this before. Because we've been decades now without inflation, we've come to regard it [low food prices] as some sort of given right."
This came as new figures released by Consumer watchdog Which? on Tuesday showed that in April, meat, yoghurt and vegetables had doubled in price compared to a year ago. While overall inflation has started to ease very slightly from 17.2% in March to 17.1% to the end of April, Which?’s food tracker found shoppers were continuing to struggle.
At Asda, Morliny Frankfurters (350g) rose from an average of £1.25 to £2.42 – a rise of 93.8% on a year ago. A pack of four brown onions at Morrisons went from 65p to £1.24 - a 90.8% rise over 12 months, and Lancashire Farm Natural Bio Yoghurt 1kg also went up at the supermarket from £1.18 to £2.18 over the year - a rise of 85.3%.
The prices of juice, chocolate, water, fish, chilled ready meals and cheese also continued to rise month on month. The watchdog found Aberdoyle Dairies Natural Cottage Cheese 300g at Lidl had gone from an average of 67p in 2022 to £1.34 this year, a difference of 100.9%, while at Tesco, a 260g pack of own-brand salmon tails rose 51.4% from £3 to £4.54.
Supermarket own-label budget items were also up 25% in April on 12 months ago, which the watchdog reports has affected the lowest-income shoppers, despite some grocers recently moving to cut the prices of own-brand pantry staples - including bread, butter, milk, cooking oil, and pasta.
The Guardian reported Widdecombe previously claimed farmers had “constantly” complained to her about supermarket pricing when she was the MP for Maidstone. “The only way this is going to be tackled is if inflation is going to come down,” Widdecombe said. “You will not get inflation coming down if you continue to have inflationary wage rises.”
Her comments immediately triggered an outcry on Twitter, with Britons calling her comments "cruel," and "out of touch". One post read: "Marie Antoinette: 'let them eat cake', Thérèse Coffey: 'let them eat turnip', Anne Widdicombe: 'let them eat nothing'".
Who is Ann Widdecombe?
Ann Widdecombe is a long-time politician, who was originally a member of the Conservative Party. She was MP for Maidstone and The Weald from 1987 to 2010. She served as Minister for Prisons and Minister of Employment for brief stints during this time.
Widdecombe later became a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), representing Southwest England, from 2019 to 2020 as a member of the Brexit Party. The party was renamed Reform UK in 2021 and started focusing on a broader range of issues, and she rejoined it this year after a brief hiatus.
The politician is known for championing traditional values, and opposed legalising abortions and repealing Section 28 - a law which stopped councils and schools "promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" - during her time in Commons.
Widdecombe was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010.