Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has been criticised for suggesting people struggling to afford their food bills could consider working more hours.
Labour MP Rachael Maskell was heard saying “that’s appalling” as Coffey replied to her concerns about food banks in York running out of stock.
Coffey noted inflation is “really tough at the moment” and outlined support schemes in place.
She also said “one of the best ways” for people to boost their incomes is by either getting into work if they are unemployed or “potentially to work some more hours” or “get upskilled” in a bid to secure a higher wage.
“Work more hours”
Speaking after the exchanges in the Commons, Maskell told the PA news agency: “With food prices going up 16.8 per cent over the last year, the Secretary of State said that people needed to work more hours to pay for their food.
“It is shocking that the Environment Secretary shifted blame for food poverty onto people because they are on low wages and are poor, expecting them to work even more hours to put food on the table.
“People are going hungry, often limiting themselves to one small meal a day or missing food altogether. It is time her Government supported families in need, not making them work harder for a crust.”
Food banks running out
During environment, food and rural affairs questions, York Central MP Maskell earlier said: “With the ONS (Office for National Statistics) highlighting a 16.8% increase in food prices in the year to January, the Government has built its food poverty infrastructure with dependency on voluntary donations and retail waste donations.
“However, due to demand, food banks in York are running out, eking out food supplies.”
Maskell said she is holding a donation day to help bring in supplies and distribute to those in need, adding: “We call it York Together as we support one another.
“However, what is the Government doing to ensure that no-one goes without?”
“Boost their incomes”
Coffey replied: “(Ms Maskell) is right to praise the initiative in York with her constituents and I think that’s very welcome. It is an element of what also can be done locally.
“But we talk about aspects of food pricing. Inflation is really tough at the moment, there’s no doubt about that, and I’m conscious, though, that we still have a situation where generally across Europe we have one of the lowest proportion of our incomes being spent on food. Supermarkets have been very competitive.
“But I do want to encourage her to also work in supporting the household support fund that is intended to go to people particularly in need.
“But of course we do know that one of the best ways to boost their incomes is not only to get into work if they’re not in work already, but potentially to work some more hours, to get upskilled, to get a higher income.
“But of course the local welfare grant that was given some time ago now by central government to local councils is there for them to use as well.”