A Conservative MP has apologised after she told a constituent worried about the low level of statutory sick pay ​available during the coronavirus outbreak to “get a life”.

Pauline Latham, the Tory MP for Mid Derbyshire, was accused of “disgraceful” behaviour for making the remark at a time many people fear they may not have enough money to get through the crisis.

Ms Latham was asked on Twitter whether the current level of statutory sick pay of £94 a week was enough to live on – prompting the short and disparaging reply.

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The Tory MP told The Independent she only meant to reject perceived criticism from a “keyboard warrior”, rather enter into a discussion about welfare provision. “[The reply] was not about benefits, but to a keyboard warrior who is with many others always negative about everything,” she said.

Ms Lathan later apologised on Twitter: “I must apologise for the Tweet to a constituent ... At the time, I was in Spain in a state of distress having just visited my brother who is suffering from acute dementia. Very sadly, we could not bring him home to the UK because of coronavirus.”

She added: “At this time of stress, I received a Tweet from what I perceived to be a keyboard warrior and it pushed me over the edge. I am very sorry I reacted so hastily.”

The Mid Derbyshire constituent who had asked the initial question on Twitter said it had been a sincere question about the “abysmal level” of the statutory sick pay some will have to survive on if they get ill.

The constituent later tweeted: “I’m sorry to hear about [Pauline Latham]’s brother. Her response to my question was quite a shock. I understand now that she was distressed - I get that - but I think perhaps she should have not answered at all in the circumstances.”

Many on social media criticised her initial remark, claiming she displayed a lack of empathy with the most vulnerable. The journalist Tanya Gold said: “It is a constituent. You can’t choose which of them you treat well. You are their servant.”

The Labour party has called for a series of emergency financial protections for workers, including a rise in statutory sick pay from £94.25 a week, and income protection for low-paid and self-employed workers.

It follows announcements by the chancellor Rishi Sunak that those eligible for statutory sick pay who are required to self-isolate will get it even if they are not displaying symptoms, without the requirement to obtain a sick note from a doctor.

Millions of self-employed and gig economy workers are not entitled to SSP, but will be offered help through a £500m boost to the benefits system.

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