A TV star has challenged MPs to give up their salaries and homes in exchange for Universal Credit and a council house as he cut the ribbon to a foodbank extension.
Ricky Tomlinson was at Food Emergency East Durham (FEED) Trust in Peterlee to officially open their storage room where donated food will be kept to be turned into emergency parcels for struggling families and individuals.
During his visit he blasted the need for foodbanks in this day and age and challenged MPs to give up their luxuries and spend time living on universal credit.
The former Brookside star, also famous for his role as Jim Royle in sitcom The Royle Family, showed his passion for the cause as well as his anger at those in need having benefits cuts or sanctioned.
Speaking at the opening of the new room he said being at the centre, in Yoden Road, made him feel “very proud” to be part of such a scheme but also “very angry”.
He said: “Here we are in 2019 and we are one of the richest countries on the planet - this shouldn’t be happening.
“We are a wealthy country and we can afford to look after our own whether they are old, young whatever.
“I am delighted to be here, it is tremendous the work they are doing - but they shouldn’t have to do it. And if they do have to do it, then it should be funded, and it should be funded by the government.”
He then challenged MPs to swap lives with those forced to live on benefits and in a council house.
He added: “Let’s have an experiment where we get a group of MPs and put them in a council house and give them the exact benefits that the people they are replacing live on.
"Then put those people in the MPs house and let them live on their weekly income. I’m sure they’d manage better in them houses than the MPs would manage on the wages of a working-class person.
“So, let’s try this as an experiment and let’s see if it makes any change happen.”
During the event, visitors were told since FEED opened its doors in 2011, over 10,000 food parcels have been given to the people of East Durham in need.
When it first started volunteers were handing out 30 parcels a week, however, the figure has doubled and in the run up to Christmas 2018, more than 200 parcels were being handed out in a five-day period.
The increase is being blamed on the introduction of Universal Credit and the delay in payments to families.
Universal Credit is part of the Government’s Welfare Reform package and was rolled out in East Durham just over a year ago.
Malcolm Fallow, CEO of East Durham Trust said: “This event is about raising awareness of the effect of Universal Credit and the problems its is causing people in East Durham.
“Universal Credit is a punitive punishments for people, who through no fault of their own, are unemployed or are in precarious employment
“We are through the event, bring to he attention the plight of these people who are needing our support.”
He added: “It is brilliant we have Ricky Tomlinson here as in the eyes of many people Ricky Tomlinson is a working class hero, both in his professional and private life. He is a principled man and we are a principled organisation, so to be able to stand arm in arm with Ricky Tomlinson on something like this, is something we are very proud of and we are very grateful for him coming to support us and for him to recognise the problems that local people have.”
The actor is in the region as he appears later in the day at Redhills in Durham in support of the Durham Miners Gala.