Shoppers can deal with soaring food prices and cope with the cost of living crisis by choosing value brands in the supermarket, the environment secretary has suggested.
George Eustice, the cabinet minister overseeing food and farming, told Sky News food prices were going up because of the knock-on effect of higher energy costs, pushing up fertiliser and feed costs.
He said: “Generally speaking, what people find is by going for some of the value brands rather than own-branded products – they can actually contain and manage their household budget. It will undoubtedly put a pressure on household budgets and, of course, it comes on top of those high gas prices as well.”
He argued there was a “very, very competitive retail market with 10 big supermarkets and the four main ones competing very aggressively, particularly on some of the lower-cost, everyday value items for households, so things like spaghetti and ambient products – there’s a lot of competition to keep those prices down”.
“Where it gets harder is on things like chicken and poultry, and some fresh produce, where those increased feed costs do end up getting passed through the system because these people work on wafer-thin margins and they have to pass that cost through,” Eustice added.
He also suggested that Elsie, the 77-year-old woman who said she was riding buses to keep warm, should go to her local council for help. Boris Johnson has previously drawn criticism for boasting about having brought in free bus passes when confronted with the story of her struggles to heat her home.
Eustice told Sky News: “What would my advice be to Elsa (sic)? Well, my advice would be that, you know, not to stay on a bus all day to try and stay warm. My advice would be to seek some support from the local authority.”
Pat McFadden, a shadow Treasury minister, criticised Eustice’s comments as “woefully out of touch from a government with no solution to the cost-of-living crisis facing working people”.
“People are seeing their wages fall, fuel and food costs rise, and families are worried about how to make ends meet,” he said. “It’s time for the government to get real help to people rather than comments that simply expose how little they understand about the real struggles people are facing to pay their bills.”
The Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesperson, Wendy Chamberlain, said: “These comments show George Eustice and the Conservatives are living in a parallel universe. Families and pensioners who can’t afford their weekly shop need more help, not patronising advice from a clueless minister.
“This is the stark reality of Boris Johnson’s Britain. Oil and gas giants are raking in billions, while families are told to buy value food and pensioners are riding around on buses to keep warm.”