Walsall Council leader: Families are in poverty due to having children they can't afford

Families in Walsall are suffering from food poverty because they have more children than they can afford, the leader of the council has claimed.

Conservative Mike Bird, the leader of Walsall Council, said 'you can only have what you can afford'
Conservative Mike Bird, the leader of Walsall Council, said 'you can only have what you can afford'

Councillor Mike Bird made the claim during a debate about the need for food banks in the town at a full council meeting on Monday.

The Conservative council leader said in areas such as Palfrey, where child poverty is higher than other parts of Walsall, families tended to have larger families which they couldn’t afford.

And the discussion provoked an astonishing row when former Labour group leader Sean Coughlan referred to the council deputy leader Adrian Andrew having three children.

Councillor Andrew, who represents Pheasey Park Farm, angrily called his political rival a “disgrace” and told him never to bring his family into the chamber in future.

Conservative deputy council leader Adrian Andrew called Labour's Sean Coughlan 'a disgrace'

A notice of motion had been tabled by Labour members calling on the council to introduce collection points in its buildings as well as encouraging supermarkets to donate unsold food to organisations to distribute to the needy.

During the discussion, council chief Mike Bird said one factor causing hardship to families in some parts of Walsall was the number of children they had.

He said: “It’s identified in the report that 18 per cent of children living in Streetly live in poverty whereas 63 per cent live in Palfrey.

“And there is a cultural issue. Many people who live in Palfrey and Caldmore have four or five children at a time. And that is their choice.

“Whereas in other parts of the borough, they will limit their children to one or two.

“The crux of that is you can only have what you can afford. The root cause of this on many occasions is that the family is too big.”

Labour Willenhall councillor Sean Coughlan used to be the leader of the council

In response Councillor Coughlan, who represents Willenhall South, said: “I’m pleased we have been able to come together as a chamber and tackle a real problem in Walsall.

“I did feel a bit sensitive for Councillor Andrew. As a father-of-one, I’m sure Mike Bird will tell everyone I’ve done the right thing.

“How many children is it now, Adrian? Three?”

But he was cut off by Councillor Andrew who said: “What’s it got to do with you in a public environment like this? How many children I have is my business.

“How dare you bring my children into this chamber. You’re a disgrace man. Don’t you bring my children in here mate.”

Walsall Mayor Paul Bott, who was chairing the meeting, and the authority’s head of legal services Tony Cox intervened to restore order.

Despite the tension, an amended motion put forward by the Conservative administration which pledged to set up a task force to look at reducing food poverty in Walsall was agreed by all parties.

Food banks in the Walsall borough

Data from End Child Poverty coalition suggests 41 per cent or around 30,551 children were living in poverty in Walsall in 2019. There are nine food banks across the borough which operate in partnership with the Trussell Trust and Black Country Foodbank.

After the meeting, current Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz said: “I feel the country is rich enough to feed its children.

“The fact that someone has more than one child, doesn’t mean that we as a society haven’t got the money to feed them. I think we have.

“It shames us all but I’m happy we will come together and look at the issues. We as a council must do all we can to alleviate that.”

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