Sunak refuses to commit to lifting benefits and pensions in line with inflation

Sunak refuses to commit to lifting benefits and pensions in line with inflation <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Sunak refuses to commit to lifting benefits and pensions in line with inflation (Image: PA)

RISHI Sunak has refused to commit to increasing benefits in line with inflation, telling MPs that “difficult decisions need to be made.”

The comment from the Prime Minister came as Downing Street said he was also reviewing the pledges made during his Tory leadership campaign to assess whether they are still “deliverable."

Mr Sunak initially promised to uprate benefits in line with the Consumer Price Index just five months ago, when he was Boris Johnson’s chancellor.

But with Liz Truss’s brief time in Downing Street leaving the Treasury with a £50bn fiscal hole, there are fears that he and his Chancellor could look to benefits as a way of making savings.

It is also not entirely clear what will happen to the pensions triple lock.

The Tory manifesto promised that the state pension would rise every year by whichever is highest of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5 per cent.

Ms Truss committed to it just three weeks ago, but Mr Sunak has, so far, been unwilling to do so.

Jeremy Hunt is due to set out his budget on November 17.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said that last week Mr Sunak had “repeatedly refused to say if he would keep the promise that he made only five months ago.”

“Prime Minister, people don't need to hear any more speeches about compassionate conservatism. People just need a straight answer to a simple question. Will he keep his promise and lift benefits and pensions in line with inflation?” he asked.

Mr Sunak replied: “We do now have an excellent new Chancellor and I'm looking forward to his autumn statement in a couple of weeks.

"It wouldn't be right to comment on individual policy measures before then, but I think everyone knows we do face a challenging economic outlook and difficult decisions need to be made.

“But what I would say is that we will always - as my track record as chancellor has demonstrated - have fairness and compassion at the heart of everything.”

Mr Blackford said Mr Sunak had refused to “give a straight answer to the most vulnerable that require support.”

He added: The Prime Minister keeps telling us that difficult decisions need to be made. But austerity 2.0 isn't a difficult decision. It is what it has always been, a Tory political choice to hit the hardest.

“In the week that BP saw quarterly profits of £7.1bn why not take the easy decision to bring in a proper windfall tax? Why not take the easy decision to reinstate the cap on bankers bonuses? Why not take the easy decision to scrap the non dom tax avoidance?

“And with all that new revenue why not stand up today and take the easiest decision of all, to protect those most in need and increase benefits and pensions in line with inflation?”

Mr Sunak said there was a “significant difference” on the north sea between the Tories and the SNP.

“As chancellor, I introduced the new levy on oil and gas companies because I believed that was the right thing to do. But where we will always differ is we believe that our north sea producers do have an important role to play in our transition to net zero.

“They are an important source of transition fuels and we will make sure that we support them to invest in exploiting those resources for the British people.”

Speaking after question time, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said the economic situation had changed since the leadership contest over the summer.

“We are looking at all the campaign pledges and we are looking at whether it is the right time to take them forward,” she said.

“We need to take some time to make sure what is deliverable and what is possible, and engaging with stakeholders and with the relevant secretaries of state as well.

“Obviously, those are pledges that were made a few months ago now and the context is somewhat different, obviously, economically. We need to look again.”