Minister's 'patronising' cost of living advice to 'buy value brands' sparks fury

Has the government done enough to convince voters it is tackling the cost of living crisis? ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

A senior Cabinet minister has sparked fury by telling struggling households they could manage their budget better through the cost-of-living crisis by "going for some of the value brands products" when food shopping.

The comments from Environment Secretary George Eustice won immediate condemnation, with the Lib Dems attacking the "patronising" advice and Labour saying it shows the government is "woefully out of touch".

Mr Eustice said the government is "doing what we can for now" to help people but is "not pretending" it can provide enough support to cover everyone's increased costs - which have risen by at least £800 per year for the average household in taxes and bills alone.

On top of that, food inflation hit 3.5% in April - the highest since March 2013 - meaning the cost of feeding a family is rising at the fastest rate in almost a decade, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Mr Eustice admitted increases to the cost of food - sparked in part rising energy and fertiliser prices - will "undoubtedly put a pressure on household budgets".

But his advice to buy value brands isn't likely to help struggling families which have been battling the cost-of-living crisis for months.

"Generally speaking," the minister told Sky News, "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".

The Liberal Democrats said the remarks show the Conservatives "are living in a parallel universe" and people who can't afford their weekly shop "need more help, not patronising advice from a clueless minister".

The advice was also roundly mocked online, with many people questioning whether Mr Eustice had ever purchased value brands himself.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Tories are "out of touch, out of ideas and out of excuses" in response to Mr Eustice's comments.

He rubbished accusations that he broke coronavirus rules when campaigning last year, describing Tory attacks as "mudslinging" designed to distract from the cost-of-living crisis.

"What this mudslinging tells me is that the Conservatives have no answer to the central issue, which is the cost-of-living crisis. If they had an answer to that question, they would give it.

"If they spent as much time and energy and focus on that issue, they would be doing a service to millions of people across the country who can't pay their bills.

"The government doesn't seem to get this, they are so out of touch and out of ideas, and, frankly, now out of excuses."

It comes after the prime minister took credit for bringing in 24 hour bus passes while London mayor in response to the desperate story of a 77-year-old pensioner who spends her day travelling on public transport to avoid the cost of heating her home.

After being told Good Morning Britain about the case of Elsie - who also cuts her costs by eating just one meal a day - the PM said: “Just to remind you that the 24 hour freedom bus pass was something that I introduced."

Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman Wendy Chamberlain said: "This is the stark reality of Boris Johnson's Britain... families are told to buy value food and pensioners are riding around on buses to keep warm".

Labour said the value brands advice "simply expose(s) how little they understand about the real struggles people are facing to pay their bills”.

On Wednesday the prime minister said there is "more that we can do" to help those who are struggling but Mr Eustice was unable to elaborate much on what further support could be announced, other than what is already in place.

A package of £350 per household has previously been announced - in the form of a £150 council tax rebate coming this month and a £200 interest-free loan to help with energy bills in October - but Labour and the Lib Dems say much more support could be provided if the government taxed huge profits made by oil and gas companies.

Mr Eustice said a windfall tax on firms such as BP and Shell has not been ruled out but the government wants to avoid taxing them too much to ensure they invest in UK energy production.

"They have higher taxes already than the rest of business and we keep these things under review but the important thing is the chancellor is very mindful of deterring investment in the North Sea," the minister told ITV.

But BP chief executive Bernard Looney told The Times on Wednesday that his firm could afford to stick with all its investment plans, even if a windfall tax was imposed.

In response, Mr Eustice said the tax regime is set to cover the "sector as a whole" and BP's position may not be the same as other firms in the industry.

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