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18 May 2022

Ranked: every patronising Conservative cost-of-living crisis survival tip

Governing party politicians have time and again made gaffes relating to rising bills and prices.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio and Hugh Smiley

Short of providing, erm, sufficient financial support to Britons struggling to pay their bills, a number of Tory MPs have decided instead to give the nation their own handy tips for how to deal with spiralling costs.

Whether it’s the genius idea of renting out your granny flat, talking up the myth of a 30p meal, or deploying a mock-Scouse accent, the governing party has been impressively creative in the face of economic strife.

Here are the best (or worst) moments so far:

Boris Johnson boasts that pensioners can keep warm on buses for free

For a politician who once answered the classic gotcha question of the price of bread with the riposte “I can tell you the price of a bottle of champagne,” the Prime Minister’s failure to understand the cost-of-living crisis – or read the room – was on show again last month.

In a live interview with Good Morning Britain, Boris Johnson was presented with the story of Elsie, a 77-year-old widowed pensioner, who, to cut down on spending, only eats one meal a day and uses her freedom bus pass to stay on public transport all day just to stay warm and avoid using energy at home.

When asked what more she can cut back on, the Prime Minister responded that he “doesn’t want Elsie to cut back on anything”, before prefacing a longer response to presenter Susanna Reid with: “Just to remind you, the 24-hour freedom bus pass was something I actually introduced.”

Rishi Sunak can buy “different breads” – but you can’t, because of technical issues

Rishi Sunak was everyone’s best mate during the Eat Out to Help Out summer of 2020, but his popularity and reputation have been scuppered (and then some) by the multi-millionaire chancellor’s half-hearted Spring Statement help for struggling households (and his wife’s tax affairs).

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He was filmed trying to pay for his signature full-fat Coke by scanning his card rather than the can itself, and struggled with the infamous Bread Question. When asked what items on his weekly shop had risen in price, he awkwardly laughed and revealed that his personal choice of bread (“a Hovis kind of seeded thing”) is “now about £1.20 and it was about £1, from memory”. He then revealed that his family “all have different breads”.

After Universal Credit only rose by 3.1 per cent in April, with inflation at 7 per cent, Sunak claimed the government’s antiquated computer system would not let him raise benefits twice in a year (an excuse the New Statesman has debunked).

Michael Gove mocking the idea of emergency help in a Scouse accent

While trying to assure the public that the government is supporting people through the current crisis, the Housing Secretary Michael Gove seemed to have confused his BBC Breakfast interview with an audition for a low-rent TV drama.

Deviating from his standard posh Scottish, Gove argued that the government is taking action to help people “facing incredibly tough times, but that doesn’t amount to an emergency budget” he said, mocking the latter idea by lowering his voice melodramatically.

And the voices didn’t stop there. He sneered at those trying to make the idea of an emergency budget into a “major – capital letters – BIG NEWS STORY”, complete with a cod American accent and head waggle, before attempting a Scouse accent: “When the Treasury says ‘calm down’.”

George Eustice on the ingenious concept of buying own-brand essentials

Earlier this month, the Environment Secretary George Eustice put out the ingenious suggestion that struggling households should swap branded goods for value-range products. He told consumers in an interview with Sky News that “by going for some sort of value brands, rather than, you know, own-branded [sic] products… they can actually sort of contain and manage their household budget”.

He perhaps hadn’t realised that cash-strapped shoppers had already thought of that.

Lee Anderson thinks food-bank use is up because people can’t cook or budget properly

In a House of Commons debate on 11 May, Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield, claimed that there was “not this massive use for food banks in this country” and scolded “generation after generation who cannot cook properly; they can’t cook a meal from scratch [and] cannot budget”, while championing a local food bank in which users “have to register for a budgeting course and a cooking course” (they don’t).

Perhaps forgetting the cost of electricity, gas or anything with flavour, he insisted meals could be cooked from nothing “for about 30p a day” (a claim debunked by chefs).

Kit Malthouse is finding his £115,000 salary “tricky”

In an April interview with LBC, the policing minister Kit Malthouse, who earns over £115,000 a year, said that he is finding the “day-to-day” of the cost-of-living crisis “tricky”, bemoaning rises in his oil-powered central heating bill, which he said he was feeling “very significantly”.

“As you know, I’ve got children. They need to be fed and that cost is rising. My fuel prices are rising quite significantly,” he said. “It is a challenge for everybody.”

Katherine Fletcher thinks claimants are “sitting on benefits” – contrary to facts

In March, the Tory MP for South Ribble, Katherine Fletcher, was challenged by the BBC on why 1.3 million people could fall into absolute poverty next year. She defended government policies and said that it needs to do more against people who are “sitting on benefits”. Perhaps she forgot that 37 per cent of Universal Credit claimants are actually working, a further 35 per cent are actively searching for work, and that most of the rest aren’t required to work at all because of illness or other factors.

Rachel Maclean suggests working longer hours, or finding a better-paid job

The safeguarding minister, Rachel Maclean, suggested in a 16 May interview with Sky News that people would be better protected from financial hardship by “taking on more hours” or “moving to a better-paid job”, perhaps forgetting the reality of in-work poverty, and how competition for jobs is distributed.

Jackie Doyle-Price says we should make more of our enormous back gardens

During the Queen’s Speech debate on 16 May, Jackie Doyle-Price, the Tory MP for Thurrock, said that the government should encourage “people to make better use of their housing asset for the whole of their family”, suggesting the government could “incentivise granny annexes” being built by people to help their children save on housing costs.

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