Jeremy Hunt has suggested the triple lock on state pensions increases could be scrapped, as he refused to make any commitments on “individual policy areas”.
The Chancellor said decisions would be taken “through the prism of what matters” to the most vulnerable but failed to guarantee the Government would maintain the triple lock, the policy commitment by which state pensions are uprated by whichever is highest of 2.5%, wages and inflation.
At the end of September, his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng had said he and the Prime Minister were “absolutely committed” to it.
Mr Hunt also refused to make commitments on defence spending, despite Ms Truss promising to increase it to 3% of GDP by 2030 during her leadership campaign, and on whether benefits would rise in line with inflation.
His comments came as he was answering questions from MPs after delivering his first statement in the Commons as Chancellor, during which he warned the Government would not shy away from taking “difficult decisions”.
Labour’s Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) asked: “Does the Chancellor agree with the Prime Minister who confirmed that the state pension would rise with inflation in April and if he does agree, can he commit to it today?”
Mr Hunt replied: “I’m very aware of how many vulnerable pensioners there are and the importance of the triple lock but, as I said earlier, I’m not making any commitments on any individual policy areas, but every decision we take will be taken through the prism of what matters most to the most vulnerable.”
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Inflation is expected to be by far the highest factor this year, potentially putting pensioners in line for an increase of 10% or more.
Last year, the triple lock was suspended, with pensioners receiving a 3.1% increase.
The issue of defence spending was raised by the Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee and former minister Tobias Ellwood, who told him the “the world is getting more dangerous, not less”.
“Will he commit to continuing that promise of 3% GDP defence spend?”, Mr Ellwood said.
The Chancellor reminded MPs he was “sympathetic” to the cause as he “campaigned for it when I was a backbencher very loudly and visibly”.
“But all of these things have to be sustainable,” he added.
“Any increase in defence spending has to be an increase that we can sustain over very many years. Let me just say to him today that I agree with him entirely, that the duty of the Government is security for the population in all senses of the word.”
Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell instead pressed Mr Hunt on whether the Government would increase benefits by at least the rate of inflation.
The Chancellor reiterated his stance on not making any “firm commitments” on individual elements of tax and spending, adding: “But I hope he is reassured that I have been very clear about the values through which we will take those decisions.”