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Rishi Sunak has refused to commit to having the so-called pensions triple lock in the next Conservative election manifesto, risking a backlash among Tory MPs.
The UK prime minister insisted he was not willing to “speculate” on the pledges the Conservatives will make as they prepare for a general election expected next year.
Sunak’s failure to offer a cast-iron guarantee to keep the triple lock, which requires that the state pension be uprated annually by whichever is highest of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5 per cent, is expected to spark unease among some Tory MPs who fear this could alienate older voters.
A sharp rise in wages means the Treasury is braced for a costly 8 per cent plus increase in the state pension next year under the terms of lock. It follows a 10.1 per cent rise this year due to high inflation.
Asked whether he would commit to the triple lock being in the next Conservative manifesto, Sunak said at the G20 summit in New Delhi: “We’re not going to speculate on the election manifesto now.
“I’ve got plenty to get on with between now and then. But the triple lock is the government’s policy and has been for a long time.”
The triple lock, which was introduced by the coalition government in 2010, has periodically ensured retirees’ incomes rise faster than workers’ wages.
Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank said the lock could add up to £45bn a year to the government’s welfare bill by 2050, putting “insurmountable pressure” on ministers to increase the minimum retirement age for men and women.
Sunak’s reticence to commit to retaining the lock beyond the forthcoming election contrasts with work and pensions secretary Mel Stride, who said in June it would “almost certainly” feature in the next Conservative manifesto.
While the Tories are committed to the lock in this parliament, ministers are exploring cutting working age welfare benefits in real terms ahead of the election to give chancellor Jeremy Hunt some fiscal room for tax cuts.
In a sign of potential divisions between ministers over the issue, justice secretary Alex Chalk on Sunday called for the government to take a “humane” approach to benefits.
He told Sky News: “We must do everything we can for the most disadvantaged in society . . . I will want to ensure, my colleagues will want to ensure, that we are decent, humane and that we support people.”