Government minister Margot James has defended Marks & Spencer from a blizzard of criticism from MPs over the retailer’s pay changes around the living wage.

During a debate in Parliament today, Labour MPs attacked a number of retailers – including Morrisons, Asda and B&Q – over controversial changes they have made to their pay structures around the national living wage.

But M&S’s approach sparked the most fury.

Labour MP Liz McInnes read a letter from a constituent who has worked for the retailer for 34 years. The constituent said she felt “blackmailed” over the fact that M&S was offering compensation after cutting premiums for working Sundays and antisocial hours.

McInnes said the loyal worker felt like she had been “sold down the river”.

High profile M&S critic Siobhain McDonagh MP, who secured the debate, weighed in by claiming thousands of M&S staff will “lose thousands of pounds a year” over the changes. 

M&S revealed in September it was offering payouts to staff affected by the scrapping of premium pay.

But leaked documents showed thousands of M&S staff could lose their job if they did not accept the changes.

James, a minister in the department for business, energy and industrial strategy, said she did not recognise the picture MPs were painting. 

“I met with M&S to see the wider impact of the changes,” she said. James said a “markedly different picture” emerged compared to the one being portrayed by MPs.

She noted that M&S was raising its minimum wage to £8.50 from April and 90% of staff would be better off. James also stressed that M&S is “not cutting its pension scheme”.

The minister admitted she shared “some of the concerns” around some businesses’ approaches to the living wage.

But she added: “We can only set the minimum wage… it’s down to employers to decide how they carry these costs.”