Theresa May has said there are "many complex reasons" why nurses are using food banks.
Pressed by the BBC’s Andrew Marr, in highly awkward exchanges, the Prime Minister was asked if she agree it was "surely wrong" that nurses are using food banks, as recent reports show.
Theresa May replied: "There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks and I want to create an economy where we have a strong economy where we pay for public services that we need but we are also creating secure jobs."
Marr said: "The problem people have is that they haven’t got enough money to eat at the moment."
The Prime Minister said: "Yes, and you’re only going to be able to do this if you have strength in the economy."
Elsewhere in the interview, Ms May left open the possibility that the Conservatives will ditch their pledge not to raise certain taxes, though she insisted "working families" would benefit from a tax cut if the Tories win on 8 June.
She said: "We have absolutely no plans to increase the level of tax but I'm also very clear that we don't want to make specific proposals on taxes unless I'm absolutely sure that I can deliver on those.
"But it would be my intention as a Conservative government and as a Conservative prime minister to reduce the taxes on working families.
"And if you've got strong and stable leadership that's absolutely what you can do."
Labour MPs also seized on the PM's comments.
Former minister Angela Eagle took to Twitter to criticise Mrs May's "appalling refusal to recognise the human cost of Tory cuts".
Senior Labour figure Yvette Cooper posted: "This is Theresa May's style - rigid rhetoric far from reality, from school budgets to nurses pay, Brexit to tax".
RCN chief executive Janet Davies criticised Mrs May and said the 1% cap on public sector basic pay increases was "fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis" that is risking patient safety.
"Theresa May was explicitly asked to admit that it is wrong for nurses to be forced to use food banks in 2017," Ms Davies said.
"Not only did she fail to acknowledge it is wrong, she failed to even mention nurses or their work in her reply.
"Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets. Too many are struggling to make ends meet, turning to food banks and hardship grants in desperation.
"Every year that the Government holds NHS pay below inflation, hundreds of thousands of nurses get another real-terms cut to their salary."