Therese Coffey says it’s not government’s job to help out food banks

Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Therese Coffey attends a visit by South Africa's president to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, southwest London, on November 23, 2022 on the second day of his two-day state visit. - South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa urged rich nations to help save vulnerable ones from climate change, as he made the first state visit of King Charles III's reign. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Environment secretary Therese Coffey has said it isn’t the government's role to top-up food banks. (Getty Images)

The environment secretary has said it's not the government's job to provide free food to people during the cost of living crisis.

Therese Coffey, appearing in front of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee, said it wasn't the government's role to top up food banks after they received fewer donations.

Instead, she said she was "a strong believer in helping people get into work" so they could support themselves.

It comes as soaring energy bills and food prices continue to hit families across the UK.

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EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 16 File photo dated 03/03/21 of food laid out in crates at a food bank in north London. Four out of five low-paid workers say the cost-of-living crisis is the worst financial period they have ever faced, new research suggests. Issue date: Friday September 16, 2022.
Food banks are struggling to cope with increased demand. (PA)

On Tuesday, Coffey was asked if the government was going to make up the difference to food banks by providing free or cheap items.

She responded: "The government isn't going to provide free food and it's not the role of government to provide free food."

Food inflation surged to 12.4% in the year to November, according to data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), sparking predictions of an "increasingly bleak" winter.

Many Britons, including those working, are now turning to food banks for help.

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Coffey said the government would not intervene in the market to help farmers and the public with soaring food prices.

She told the committee: "I don't think we are at the stage of a market intervention directly when it comes to pricing."

Labour and Co-operative MP Jim McMahon criticised Coffey for her stance, tweeting: "Today the new environment secretary confirmed she hasn't got the first idea what her department actually does, what it's responsible for, or how to show any kind of political leadership.

"Not for the first time, and definitely the last."

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Last month, the Trussell Trust charity, which supports more than 1,300 food bank centres, said there was a "tsunami of need", with demand for food parcels outstripping donations for the first time in its history.

It said 1.3 million emergency food parcels were provided between April and September, a third more than in 2021.

The charity added that in the first half of this financial year, it provided more food parcels than in a full 12-month period five years ago, when 1.2 million parcels were distributed.

The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said in October that 91% of its organisations had seen an increase in demand since July 2022.

More than four out of five of its groups said supply issues had impacted them since the summer.

The Trussell Trust has said short-term interventions by government are "neither sustainable nor dignified" for those people who are struggling, and won't solve the long-term problem of people relying on food banks.