In an extraordinary exchange at City of York Council, a senior councillor was alleged to have claimed ‘that poor people spend all their money on booze and fags’.

Cllr Ian Cuthbertson, the Liberal Democrat executive member for children, young people and education, was said to have made remarks to that effect twice at a conference on social mobility.


Labour councillors Fiona Fitzpatrick and Jonny Crawshaw were at the same conference. They levelled the accusation at Cllr Cuthbertson at a full meeting of the council on Thursday (31 October).

Cllr Cuthbertson denied saying the words attributed him, saying he had been quoted out of context.

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This is how the exchange unfolded at the council meeting – you can watch it in the video above.

Cllr Fiona Fitzpatrick (Labour, Guildhall):

  • “At a conference on social mobility last month, you publicly asserted that you would address the attainment gap by speaking to the parents of every child in the city – telling them to get off the fags and booze.

    “This struck me as a new Liberal Democrat policy of this administration. And I wanted to ask the executive member what plans he has for getting underway with his tour of the city?”

Cllr Ian Cuthbertson (Lib Dem, Haxby & Wigginton):

  • “I think Cllr Fitzpatrick’s imagination is over-active tonight. I don’t remember saying that. When you say ‘publicly’ you’re suggesting that I said such a thing to the whole conference.

    “I may have made a remark of that kind – and I don’t know exactly what you’re saying I said – because again I didn’t hear you. But I don’t know exactly what context you’re saying I made that remark.”

Cllr Fiona Fitzpatrick at the meeting. Photograph: City of York Council/YouTube
Cllr Ian Cuthbertson responds. Photograph: City of York Council/YouTube

Cllr Fitzpatrick:

  • “The idea that poor people spend all their money on booze and fags, and don’t want the best for their children, is the worst kind of lazy tabloid rhetoric.

    “I wonder whether you are aware that basically all the available evidence shows that parents from the lowest income households regularly skip their own meals in order to put food in their children’s stomachs.”

Cllr Cuthbertson:

  • “Cllr Fitzpatrick, are you telling me I said that? I don’t think I did. And I am aware of the situation you have just described. I don’t remember saying it.”

Cllr Jonny Crawshaw (Labour, Micklegate):

  • “I want to be absolutely clear. On two occasions in break-out rooms, in front of a significant number of people, you repeated the assertion that, if you could just get hold of those parents of those poor children from those low income households, and tell them to lay off the booze and the fags and read to their children, then that would go a long way towards closing the attainment gap.

    “Now the reality is that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that parents and carers of young people from low income households do anything other than skip meals, save every last penny, to do everything they possibly can for those children and young people.

    “Now I appreciate that that may have been a flippant comment once – but you repeated it. It was on two separate occasions. In fact the room took an intake of breath the first time that that was said.

    “So please take the opportunity now to make it absolutely clear that that is not your view, and is not the view of the portfolio holder for children and education.”

Cllr Jonny Crawshaw. Photograph: City of York Council/YouTube

Cllr Cuthbertson:

  • “I did say that if I could convince the parents of young children at the point of conception – preferably six months before – to lay off alcohol, drugs and tobacco… and continue that through pregnancy – then that would be to the benefit of the children concerned. And could solve some of our problems reaching school age.

    “And I don’t remember mentioning income at all. Because that problem applies to parents of all income brackets if it applies at all.”