Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt was put on the spot on a visit to a Teesside college and asked: “When was the last time you didn’t have enough money to eat?”

Mr Hunt was quizzed about the Government’s response to the continued cost of living crisis after spending time touring Redcar & Cleveland College, on the outskirts of Redcar.

Conservative Mr Hunt eschewed the delights of Redcar seafront and the potential of a classic lemon-top ice cream experienced by many a top politician, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Instead he spoke to staff and students on a low key tour of the college, which is developing a clean energy education hub intended to provide training and skills tailored to the fast growing energy sector, courtesy of Government Town Deal funding.

Mr Hunt, who was in the region ahead of next month’s local elections, was asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) whether wealthy senior Tories such as himself and current PM Rishi Sunak were out of touch with many residents struggling to put food on the table on their families or getting by on minimum wage and zero hours contracts, for example.

And when did he last not have enough money to eat?

The chancellor, who reportedly has a net worth of more than £15m, appeared slightly taken aback by the question and responded: “I think you should judge us not by our bank accounts, but by what we do to help ordinary people.

“Since the Conservatives have been in office 400,000 children have been lifted out of absolute poverty and 200,000 pensioners.

“Because of the levelling up agenda we have seen 70% of jobs created outside of London and the South East in the last four years.

“The Conservative vision is wealth and opportunity spread across the whole country and when you see someone who is wealthy we don’t say that is a matter for envy or that we should despise that, we say we want to make the opportunity for that available to everyone.”

The LDRS also asked Mr Hunt if the Conservatives should shoulder some or all of the blame for higher levels of inflation than many other European countries and food prices which are rising at their fastest rate for 45 years.

Inflation in March was 10.1%, while in Eurozone countries it was 6.9%.

Meanwhile, the price of basic foodstuffs in the last 12 months has rocketed with the cost of 400 grams of cheddar cheese increasing by 49%, a two pint bottle of milk by 40%, a dozen eggs by 28% and an 800g loaf of sliced white bread by 21%.

At the same time just under a third of children living in Redcar and Cleveland – one of the most deprived areas in the country – are deemed to be living in poverty, while there are wide discrepancies in life expectancy standards locally, regionally and nationally.

Typically rising food prices hit the poorest the hardest since they spent more of their income on groceries.

Brexit red-tape and labour shortages have been cited as factors in the UK’s current position.

Mr Hunt, who earlier in the day visited Darlington, said: “This is a global phenomenon and the person that needs to shoulder the blame is Vladimir Putin and his illegal war in Ukraine, which has created a global energy crisis.

“We acknowledge the enormous pressure and it is why we have given out this year and last year about £3,000 to the average household and why we increased the national living wage to £10.42, and uprated benefits in line with inflation.

“Independent forecasters say that if we stick to our plan we will get inflation down to below 3% by the end of the year and what I have to do as Chancellor is to make sure we stick to that plan.

“It is very destabilising for an economy like ours to have food prices going up at this rate.”

Mr Hunt, who was accompanied by Redcar MP Jacob Young and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, added: “There is a direct link between poverty and low life expectancy – we want to eliminate poverty and since 2013 there are 1.7m fewer people living in poverty.

“The way we do that is not by just having a safety net – although we will support that as Conservatives – it is about allowing areas to generate their own wealth and prosperity with great industries, businesses and jobs.

“This is the difference between the Conservative vision and the vision of the other parties.

“We are very happy to do redistribution [of funding], but actually what we want is local wealth creation, which in the end is how you get independence and self-respect and long-term prosperity.”

Describing his visit to Redcar & Cleveland College, Mr Hunt, who took over as Chancellor in October last year, said: “I have been seeing how Conservative policies are working in action.

“This is one of the best examples in the country of how if you have people who care about helping businesses flourish you can really transform an area that has in the past been left behind.

“This college is a fantastic example, four years ago it was totally struggling.

“It received £3.2m from the Town Fund for Redcar and has had a transformation towards becoming a clean energy education hub.

“Clean energy is one of our five big growth industries in this country alongside digital, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and creative industries.

“Teesside, which is very much because of Ben [Houchen’s] leadership, is going to be a national centre for clean energy, attracting hundreds of millions of pounds from investment from all over the world.

“That’s because we are doing things here – carbon capture utilisation and storage, offshore wind – that aren’t being done elsewhere and we are now getting 40% of our electricity from renewables, the second biggest proportion in Europe.

“What does this mean for local people?

“It means well-paid jobs in the industries of the future and the way you get there is to upgrade people’s skills so they command those salaries and get those opportunities, and this college is a fantastic example of this transformation.”

The Chancellor praised Redcar MP Mr Young, who had been “banging on the Treasury’s door” to secure £20m worth of levelling up funding for nearby Eston.

He claimed such funding “had been protected in cash terms” when asked about the impact of inflation which some critics have said will mean a real-terms cut in the money being available to local authorities.

Mr Hunt went on to say that too many young people were still leaving schools without basic numeracy and literacy skills and suggested that the country’s future workforce would have to re-train throughout their lives because of the rapid way technology was progressing.