Military members opt to use food banks, Tory minister claims

Veterans Affairs Secretary Johnny Mercer indicated that some service members did so because of personal budgetary decisions.

“These are personal decisions about how people budget each month,” he told Sky News.

“Of course I don’t want anyone to use boards. But we are in an extremely difficult time when it comes to the cost of living.

“I will always advocate for service staff to be paid better, I would be mad if I didn’t. But it has to be within budget.”

When asked about people not relying on food banks, Mr Mercer replied: “Well, in my experience, that’s not true.

“I think there are some bad cases where we need to do more to protect ourselves and make sure there’s a safety net for people.

“I don’t think the use of food banks is an accurate picture of what the relative or absolute poverty levels are in this country.”

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The Trussell Trust, which has over 1,300 food banks and is the UK’s largest provider, recently announced it had distributed nearly 3 million emergency food parcels in the past year – the most parcels the network has ever distributed in a year has.

Between April 2022 and March 2023, the number of people using one of their boards for the first time was 760,000.

Plymouth Moor View MP Mr Mercer added: “I wouldn’t want anyone to use food banks but I think you still get a good pay and quality of life in the military.”

“And it will continue to be so.”

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Mr. Mercer spoke as he introduced a special hotline for homeless veterans.

Ex-servicemen can be referred through the government-funded hotline to a support network that includes housing providers, charities and local authorities.

The £500,000 hotline – open to people in England, Scotland and Wales – is part of a two-year £8.55million scheme working towards the Government’s pledge to end veterans’ rough sleeping.

Mr Mercer told Sky News: “There is no need for a veteran to sleep outdoors and I don’t want to see anyone sleep outdoors by the end of this year.”

The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) report, released last week, says that 5% of people who had trouble sleeping in London in 2022/23 had served in the armed forces at some point in their lives.

Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can contact the helpline on 0800 952 0774 or visit riv.org.uk/opfortitude.

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