Therese Coffey says people struggling to afford food bills could ‘work more hours’ to boost earnings

The Environment Secretary said people should get into work if they are unemployed or “get upskilled” to secure a higher wage

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Therese Coffey has suggested people who are struggling to afford their food bills could consider working more hours.

The Environment Secretary said “one of the best ways” for people to boost their incomes is by either getting into work if they are unemployed, “potentially to work some more hours” or “get upskilled” to secure a higher wage.

She also added inflation is “really tough at the moment” and outlined support schemes in place.

Coffey’s comments came during environment, food and rural affairs questions in the House of Commons where she replied to Labour MP Rachael Maskell’s concerns about food banks in York running out of stock.

Maskell could be heard saying “that’s appalling” as Coffey replied to her concerns.

Ms Maskell, MP for York Central, 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.”

Ms Maskell said she is holding a donation day to help bring in supplies and distribute to those in need.

She added: “We call it York Together as we support one another. However, what is the government doing to ensure that no-one goes without?”

Ms 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.”

Coffey added: “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.”

‘Time her government supported families in need’

Speaking after the exchanges in the Commons, Maskell told the PA news agency Coffey’s comments were “shocking” and “it is time her government supported families in need.”

She said: “With food prices going up 16.8% 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.”