‘If you can’t afford food, work harder’: Environment Secretary Therese Coffey sparks backlash by saying anyone who is struggling with cost-of-living crisis should take on longer hours

  • Therese Coffey says Britons struggling with food bills should ‘work more hours’
  • Gaffe-prone Environment Secretary branded ‘appalling’ for ‘shocking’ remarks 

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey stirred up a fresh row today when she claimed Britons struggling with food bills should ‘work some more hours’.

The gaffe-prone Cabinet minister was branded ‘appalling’ for her ‘shocking’ comments by a Labour MP as they clashed in the House of Commons.

The spat came as Ms Coffey admitted the cost of living crisis was ‘really tough’ for UK families.

She added that ‘one of the best ways’ for people to boost their incomes was ‘potentially to work some more hours, to get upskilled, to get a higher income’.

The row is the latest in a series of controversies to hit Ms Coffey, who has been dubbed ‘Calamity Coffey’ by critics.

Labour MP Rachael Maskell was heard saying 'that¿s appalling' as Ms Coffey replied to her concerns about food banks in York running out of stock

Labour MP Rachael Maskell was heard saying ‘that’s appalling’ as Ms Coffey replied to her concerns about food banks in York running out of stock

From ‘dumped’ nurses to ’30p Lee’: Tory gaffes about poor Brits 

Gillian Keegan

Late last year, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan sparked fury when she claimed nurses ‘usually’ only use food banks in Britain if they have been dumped or their boiler has broken. She was accused of a ‘staggering lack of empathy’ for the comments, which she made in a TV interview while wearing a £10,000 Rolex watch.

Lee Anderson

Ashfield MP Lee Anderson caused a row in May last year when he told the Commons there was not a ‘massive use’ for food banks in Britain. Mr Anderson, who has since been appointed Tory deputy chairman, subsequently offered ‘proof’ that meals can be cooked for 30p each. He is now often dubbed ’30p Lee’.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Back in 2017, influential Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg was criticised by charities after he suggested a rapid increase in the number of food banks was ‘rather uplifting’. He added it ‘shows what a good, compassionate country we are’.

Two years later he sparked fury and apolgised after suggesting Grenfell residents who followed firefighters’ instructions to ‘stay put’ during the disastrous fire that killed 73 people lacked ‘common sense’. 

Desmond Swayne

In January 2020 Sir Desmond apologised after he was slammed for saying poor people are the ‘fattest’ and need to be taught how to shop more healthily. The former minister said families on benefits who are forced to turn to foodbanks should learn to do food shopping ‘more cost effectively’.

Rory Stewart

In 2010 the Eton-educated former minister described members of his constituency as ‘people holding up their trousers with bits of twine’ who lived in ‘pretty primitive’ areas. The then MP for Penrith and the Borders, also made a joke about people failing to get medical help for a boy run over by a tractor.

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Only yesterday Ms Coffey was booed at the National Farmers’ Union conference after she insisted UK egg shortages had not been caused by ‘market failure’.

She has also previously clashed with England footballer Marcus Rashford over his free school meals campaign and came under fire for singing ‘Time of My Life’ as the Universal Credit uplift ended when she was work and pensions secretary.

Last year, when appointed health secretary by her close ally Liz Truss, Ms Coffey admitted she was ‘no role model’ after being challenged about her enthusiasm for a drink and a cigar.

During environment questions in the Commons this morning, Ms Coffey was quizzed by Labour’s Rachael Maskell about Britons struggling to afford food shopping.

The York Central MP said: ‘With the ONS highlighting a 16.8 per cent 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, adding: ‘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: ‘She  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.

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‘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.’

Ms Maskell was heard saying ‘that’s appalling’ as Ms Coffey replied to her concerns about food banks in York running out of stock.

Speaking later, she added: ‘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.’

Fellow Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: ‘This Government is utterly out of touch with working class people.’ 


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