A Cabinet minister has said he was “somewhat surprised” to hear the Bank of England warn of “apocalyptic” food price rises.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis was asked by Sky News’ Kay Burley about the comments made by Andrew Bailey, the BoE governor, in a select committee appearance on Monday.
Mr Bailey told MPs on the Treasury committee that rising food prices, at a time when supplies of goods such as wheat and cooking oil are being squeezed due to the war in Ukraine, was an issue “that I am going to sound rather apocalyptic about”.
Mr Lewis told Sky News: “I was somewhat surprised to see that particular turn of phrase because obviously we can all see that prices can move… one way or another relatively speedily.
“But we will be doing what we can to put that support in there for people across the country.
“We do recognise there’s a challenge. This is not a straightforward challenge to deal with – it’s a global challenge but it is one that I know the chancellor is very very focused on.
His comments came as a poll for Sky News revealed rising bills have meant one in four people have resorted to skipping meals.
Mr Lewis said the comments from Mr Bailey were “a matter for the Bank of England – they are independent”.
He added: “It’s not for me to comment on what they said other than say, yes, I was surprised to see that kind of terminology there – particularly in light of the fact that obviously food supplies for supermarkets… are ordered and bought a long way in advance.
“So supermarkets are already now placing orders for many many months down the line for certain products and they’re working on today’s prices, and what they’re buying for today is what we will be seeing in the supermarkets in the period ahead.”
The comments come at a time when inflation is at a three-decade high as energy, fuel and food prices soar – and is predicted to climb to more than 10% later this year.
Over the weekend it was reported in the Telegraph that Cabinet ministers have turned on the Bank of England – which is tasked with keeping inflation at around 2% – with one saying that the Bank had been “failing to get things right” and another that it had failed a “big test”.
Official figures published on Tuesday showed that wage growth, excluding bonuses, has been failing to keep pace with inflation, meaning that a real terms fall in pay is intensifying.
M&S chairman Archie Norman told the BBC’s Today programme that food price inflation could climb as high as 10% this year. Latest industry figures showed it hit 5.9% in April, the steepest rate since December 2011.
Conservative ministers have been criticised over their public comments about the crisis, most recently when safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean told Sky News the government’s plan to grow the economy would mean people could in the long term “protect themselves” by taking on more hours or moving to a better-paid job.
Mr Lewis defended the government’s response, pointing to a £22bn package designed to ease the burden of council tax and energy bill increases and a planned cut in the national insurance threshold.
He said Ms Maclean’s comments about working more hours were a reference to work “across the whole economy and us making available to people those opportunities”.
Mr Lewis added: “Obviously in some industries and in some sectors people will already be working very long hours for the jobs that they do whether it’s in the public sector or elsewhere and that’s why we’ve put in this package of support to help people.”
Labour and other opposition parties have claimed Tory politicians are out of touch over the crisis.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth told Sky News: “Ministers are sleepwalking into a cost of living tsunami.”
Labour is on Tuesday seeking to force a Commons vote on its plans for a windfall tax on energy company profits to pay for a cut in household bills.