Conservatives have reacted with fury at this year’s Red Nose Day broadcast after the BBC made “absurd” claims about the scale of poverty in the UK. During the six-hour broadcast on Friday night, which saw viewing figures and donations fall, Comedian Lenny Henry used his profile to paint a harrowing picture of hunger and deprivation in Britain. Tories have said this was an attack on Theresa May’s Government.
Minutes into this year’s appeal Sir Lenny, who recorded a film in Ethiopia for the first Red Nose Day in 1988, made a plea for FareShare.
FareShare is a charity who collect food which would otherwise be thrown away and distributes it to charity and community groups across the UK.
Sir Lenny warned “real hunger” is “hitting a huge number of people in this country.”
He added: “I have been talking about global poverty since Comic Relief began but if you told me back then that I would be here today asking you to reach into your pockets so we could help feed children in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“But that is where we are and that is exactly what I am doing.”
But his comments were branded “complete rubbish” and “socialist nonsense” by Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary said: “That statement is frankly, simply not true.
“That is an absurd exaggeration and clearly should not be used in Comic Relief advertisements.”
Tory MP Nigel Evans said Sir Lenny’s comments “paint a horrific picture” of the UK.
He added: “This is an advert for Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of politics that will alienate a lot of people.
“This is a Party Political Broadcast and that is incredibly dangerous.
“I know they want to raise funds but distorting the picture in order to do so is not clever and it runs the risk of dragging the BBC and the charity into politics, which is somewhere they really do not want to go.”
FareShare claims one in eight people “go hungry in the UK”, which equates to more than 8.25million people.
However, according to the latest figures from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2.2million people in Britain are “severely food insecure”, which means they are “experiencing hunger”.
Under its Royal Charter, the BBC is required to remain politically neutral.
Last night’s show saw viewing figures fall by 600,000 year-on-year.
Donations to the appeal also fell.
By the end of Friday’s show, Comic Relief had raised just £63million, the lowest amount achieved in 12 years and down from £71million raised in 2018.