TO Ann Widdecombe then, channelling her inner Marie Antoinette.

In modern Britain, however, it is not brioche the peasants can't afford, it's cheese. 

Widdecombe, ballroom dance survivor and former MP, made an appearance on Politics Live this week and was asked her thoughts on BBC research that shows the cost of a cheese sandwich has risen by 40p in the past year - a hike of one third.

"Well then," she replied, unperturbed by news that doesn't affect her, "Don't do the cheese sandwich." I love the phrasing of this. It's very gals lunch date. "I don't do wheat; I'll just do an egg white omelette." "I don't do living-in-a-economically-functioning-country so I'll just do tap water." 

By "cheese" the BBC means mature cheddar. Not a burrata or a nice Epoisses. Just some cheddar, the most basic of staples. 

What would you replace it with? Some kind of meat paste, assuming you don't have aspirations of vegetarianism. Ethical eating is the preserve of the wealthy. 

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Don't do the cheese sandwich, say the comfortably off, as they wonder why bleeding heart liberals whine about the links between the obesity crisis and poverty. Just have something satiating but extremely cheap, highly processed and a bit nasty. You'll be fine.

This is the sort of trope that rears its head every so often when someone comes up with a recipe that costs 70p a portion and gives the ignorant well-off the chance to criticise the poor for not eating well. 

The cheese sandwich question has been raised in the same week that a Sky News investigation found parents are stealing baby formula to feed their infants because they can't afford to buy it.

The report found parents were watering down formula, substituting formula with condensed milk or simply shoplifting it. Again, something sweet, non-nutritious and highly processed like condensed milk is cheaper to buy than formula and people still balk at the links between poverty and the obesity crisis. 

This is shocking but not surprising. In 2020 I wrote about this issue after hearing reports from foodbanks and baby banks in Glasgow where parents had reported watering down formula to try to make it last longer. The issue, rather than be eradicated, has proliferated.

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The country since entered the cost of living crisis; families are now at the start of a second year of extreme financial privations with very little sense that things are going to improve any time soon.

If only Politics Live had asked Widdicombe what she thought families who can't afford formula milk should do. Presumably she would have plumped for chiding women who are unable to breastfeed rather than attempting to empathise with parents who are desperately struggling.

That's the issue with so many on the right and with so much of the political class: a complete lack of empathy and utter lack of imagination when they bump up against situations they have not and will not endure.

The food issue is such a fundamental example of this. Presumably Widdicombe, and others of her ilk, enjoy food, enjoy drink. They, one imagines, eat out in restaurants and pass a pleasant time doing so. To write off people's struggles with a careless "they should cut down or out" speaks to such a hypocritical inability to treat others as equals. 

Food is vital for life but also for living. It's impossible to overly romanticise the importance of food as, not merely sustenance, but as pleasure, escape and as a central part of family and community life. 

Telling certain groups in society that food is only for function, nothing else, is such a grimly revealing trope of the right.

Food, of course, is also fundamental to health. This week there have also been headlines about a new study showing that obese patients cost the NHS twice as much as those within a healthy weight range.

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Health records of more than two million adults in north-west London were studied and researchers found spending increased in correlation to the increased weight of a patient. 

Obesity is a chronic policy issue, which the government repeatedly fails to tackle. The kind of thinking illustrated by Widdicombe and her like - "can't they just eat something else" - underpins so much of the attitude that leads to inaction on structural issues that must change in order to help people live healthier lives.

Another study this week - from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) - asked adults what their barriers to good health are. Surprise, surprise, 30 per cent said the cost of food was prohibitive to a healthy diet. 

The cost of living crisis has, also, taken its toll on mental health. New figures show the highest ever number of people out of the labour force due to disability or long-term sickness than ever before.

The number of people who aren't seeking work due to long-term ill health rose by 86,000 in the first three months of 2023 to 2.55m and sits at higher than before the start of the pandemic three years ago.

There are, of course, multiple causes of this: Covid-19 has had an impact; an over-stressed NHS means people aren't receiving timely treatment and are languishing on waiting lists. But another is the impact of constant money worries and constant financial struggling affecting mental health. 

Being out of work is, as well as being financially devastating, also a further blow to wellbeing. It should go without saying that it's vital for health and the economy to get people back into work; that it's vital for mental and physical wellbeing that people are able to comfortably make ends meet and put decent food on the table.

It's no personal failing to be unable to afford a cheese sandwich - it's an unforgivable failure of government that families are in this position.

Attitudes like these are all too common and all too damaging in an economy where inflation is wearing people down.

Savvy individual choices at the supermarket checkout aren't the way to fix the issues with our rotten, unhealthy politics. Let folk like Widdicombe be forced to eat humble pie every time they suggest they are.