Safeguarding minister Rachel MacLean said more “help is coming” after making the claim on the morning media rounds.
But her comments have been criticised with both Labour and trade union bosses describing the view as “out of touch”.
MacLean told Sky News: “Over the long term we need to have a plan to grow the economy and make sure that people are able to protect themselves better – whether that is by taking on more hours or moving to a better paid job and these are long term actions but that’s what we’re focused on as a government.”
It’s not the first time a Conservative minister has faced criticism for suggestions on how households can deal with rising energy bills, food costs and surging inflation.
Earlier this month, environment secretary George Eustice was ridiculed after suggesting people should switch to value brands to make ends meet at a time when even money expert Martin Lewis has said he is “out of tools” to help without more government support.
Official figures show that unemployment in the UK is at 3.8 per cent, around the levels seen before the pandemic in 2019.
The annual growth for total pay was 5.4 per cent in the year leading up to April, according to the Office for National Statistics, but inflation rose by seven per cent in the same period and it is set to rise further this year, further cutting pay in real terms.
After being questioned on her stance, MacLean said: “We have often heard in the past when people are facing problems with their budgets that one of the obstacles – and it may not be for everybody – is about being able to take on more hours or even move to a better-paid job.”
However, MacLean then qualified her statement to say that each person’s “individual situation” is different and that “it’s not going to work for people who are already working in three jobs”.
Her comments angered Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, who reiterated the opposition party’s call for a windfall tax on energy firm’s profits to pass on to struggling households. MPs are set to vote on the tax in the Commons tomorrow.
“This Tory government could not be more out of touch or out of ideas,” said Siddiq.
“As energy bills rise by record amounts for millions of families, comments like this are ridiculous – as is the prime minister’s refusal to back a windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits that could tackle the cost of living crisis.
“Tomorrow, Labour will give this Conservative government another chance to support our windfall tax.
“Britain needs a government that is on working people’s side. Only Labour can tackle the cost of living crisis and deliver the stronger economy we need.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect union, also said the comments showed MacLean was “ out of touch”.
“Taking more hours or getting a better paid job is not an option for many,” Clancy said.
“Whether that is for working families struggling with the crippling cost of childcare. Or for highly skilled workers in sectors like heritage, where staff often with multiple degrees work for poverty pay. Or even public servants who have already taken big real terms cuts to their pay over the last decade.
“For all of them this just isn’t an option. The government needs to get serious about boosting pay in the private, and public sector, before workers drown in this crisis through no fault of their own.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “Working people don’t need lectures – they need help.”
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