People struggling with rising food costs should 'work more hours' minister suggests

23 February 2023, 15:54 | Updated: 23 February 2023, 16:49

Therese Coffey sparked backlash after suggesting people who can't afford food should 'work harder'
Therese Coffey sparked backlash after suggesting people who can't afford food should 'work harder'. Picture: social media/alamy

By Asher McShane

Environment secretary Therese Coffey sparked a backlash after saying people struggling to afford rising food bills should work longer hours.

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Ms Coffey told MPs people struggling with the cost of living could help themselves by ‘potentially’ working more hours or getting upskilled.

Responding to a question in the Commons from Labour MP Rachael Maskell, she said: “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."

She outlined some schemes for vulnerable people including the household support fund and local welfare grant.

But her comments were criticised as ‘appalling’ by Ms Maskell.

Ms Coffey also told Brits facing shortages of veg in shops that the should 'eat turnips' and the crisis on the shelves which has seen Tesco, Aldi and Morrisons ration tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that the shortages should be resolved in two to four weeks.

She added that the UK should "cherish the specialisms" it has and a "lot of people would be eating turnips right now" under a seasonal food model - rather than thinking about lettuce, tomatoes and similar produce.

Ms Coffey went on to acknowledge shoppers want a "year-round choice".

She said: "A lot of people would be eating turnips right now rather than thinking necessarily about aspects of lettuce and tomatoes and similar, but I'm conscious that consumers want a year-round choice and that is what our supermarkets, food producers and growers around the world try to satisfy."

The hit to British shops comes as photos from war-ravaged Ukraine show bountiful stocks of tomatoes and cucumbers which are being rationed in British supermarkets.

Channel Four International Editor Lindsey Hillsum posted a picture from under-fire Kherson which showed plentiful stocks of produce on her Twitter.

Journalist John Sweeney also posted to social media from Ukraine's capital Kyiv showing plentiful stocks of tomatoes on shelves.

This comes after bad weather and Brexit led to shortages of tomatoes and cucumbers across Britain - with major supermarkets imposing purchase limits.

The limits are reportedly to stop restaurant proprietors from using retail outlets as wholesalers as shortages hit.

Customers will be allowed to buy a maximum of three packs at Aldi, the chain announced yesterday.

Tesco became the fourth major supermarket to impose rationing, with limits of three per customer on sales of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Read More: Tesco and Aldi ration veg: Two more supermarkets impose limits on tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers

Read More: Consumers should see ‘significant volumes’ of British tomatoes by end of March

Hilsum wrote: "No tomato shortage here - but I'm in Kherson, a frontline Ukrainian city that gets shelled by the Russian daily, not a British supermarket."

Earlier today, Liz Webster, from Save British Food, who has a farm in Wiltshire, called for an urgent return of free trade with Europe to keep British supermarket shelves stocked.

"I’ve been trying to tell people this is on the way for some time," she told Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning.“It’s because of Brexit.“Ultimately, the decisions that were made by this government, on the Brexit they chose, and what they chose to do after that Brexit.

“We’re looking at a cascading collapse of British food because of Brexit decisions.

“They are getting rid of our food security in Britain to rely on the world supposedly to feed us.

“At the same time they’ve cut off our trade with Europe, less is coming in and less is going out, and then we’re relying on people outside of Europe, which are a long way away from us to feed us.

“Tomato growers in glass houses in Britain have shut them down,” she said as a result of energy costs that are higher than the rest of Europe.

“The only solution is to get back in the single market and the customs union as quickly as possible, because now we can’t feed you as much food, we need that quick supply to come in from Europe and that’s only going to happen if you free up our trade.”