Moment minister lost for words when confronted by story of huge food bank queue

Watch: Minister left speechless over foodbank queue

A Tory minister was left speechless on Tuesday after a Labour MP challenged him over widespread use of foodbanks amid the soaring cost of food in the UK

Mark Spencer, minister for food, farming and fisheries, claimed consumers could bring down high prices in stores by adopting a "herd mentality".

"I think the UK consumer is savvy enough to continue to shop around and to make sure the marketplace drives those costs down," he said.

However, he was challenged by senior Labour MP Barry Gardiner who suggested the government needed to do more to help those struggling to afford groceries.

"It seems to me, minster, you're putting the responsibility - the blame, in effect - on the consumer instead of on the retailer here," said Gardiner.

He then shared a story from his constituency, telling Spencer: "I drove down Ealing Road in my constituency on Saturday morning, the queue for the food bank was over a quarter of a mile,"

"Those people don't feel that they have power, they feel that they are the victims of a system that doesn't take their right to eat seriously."

Spencer, temporarily lost for words, subsequently responded: "I mean, that is a statement, not a question."

The exchange came as the cost of living crisis continues to deepen, with economists warning the average household's disposable income is set to fall by 4.3% this year as the UK faces its biggest drop in living standards on record.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), food inflation hit 16.8% in the 12 months to December.

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And on Sunday, Tesco boss John Allan said food firms may be rising prices unnecessarily.

"We do try very hard to challenge [price hikes], I think," Allan told the BBC.

"We have a team who can look at the composition of food, costs of commodities, and work out whether or not these cost increases are legitimate."

Read more: Poorest in UK have £40 a month less to spare than a year ago, study finds

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Labour MP Barry Gardiner said he witnessed a queue in his consituency that was a quarter of a mile long. (parliamentlive.tv)

Read more: Archbishops call for tax rises to help fix 'unethical' social care crisis

Last week, leading public health expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot said the cost of living crisis in the UK was a “human catastrophe”.

He told LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr programme: “One in four households with children were in food insecurity, that means missing meals, not eating when you’re hungry, that will damage health, living in cold homes that will damage health, the stress of the struggle to try and make ends meet will damage health.

“It will damage physical health, and it will damage mental health. So, the cost-of-living crisis is indeed a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Watch: Food firms raising prices unnecessarily, Tesco's John Allan says