Liz Truss is no longer standing by her commitment to increase state pensions in line with soaring inflation as her imperilled leadership is overhauled by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Downing Street indicated ministers could ditch their commitment to the triple lock as the new chancellor brought in to save her ailing leadership searches to plug a multi-billion pound black hole.
The triple lock means that the state pension must rise each year in line with the highest of three possible figures: average wages, inflation, or 2.5%. Mr Hunt told colleagues at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that they must find savings from their departmental budgets.
As recently as October 2, Ms Truss was clear state pensions would increase in April through the triple lock. “I’ve committed to the triple lock. Yes,” she said in a BBC interview. But, after replacing Kwasi Kwarteng in the Treasury after their disastrous mini-budget, Downing Street backed down on this pledge. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are very aware of how many vulnerable pensioners there are and indeed our priority ahead of this fiscal plan is we continue to protect the most vulnerable in society.
“The prime minister and the chancellor are not making any commitments on individual policy areas at this point, but as I say the decisions will be made through the prism of what matters most to the most vulnerable.” Moving to review the pledge was a “mutual decision” by Ms Truss and Mr Hunt, according to the official, who denied that the prime minister had been pressured into it by her new chancellor.
In a sign of potential dissent to come, Tory MPs Maria Caulfield and Steve Double declared they would not vote to end the triple lock.
“Pensioners should not be paying the price for the cost-of-living crisis whether caused by the war in Ukraine or mini-budgets,” Ms Caulfield tweeted.
Mr Double quoted her message, which stated clearly she would “not be voting to end the pensions triple lock”, with the caption: “Nor me.”
However Cabinet Office minister Brendan Clarke-Smith played down speculation over the move on Tuesday evening, insisting: “We want to look after our pensioners. The triple lock was a manifesto commitment before.”
He told Times Radio: “Well this is all speculation, of course, isn’t it? They said to all departments we need to look at whether you’re making efficiency savings and its taxpayers’ money that we’re looking after.
“The problem is people have read a little too much into that, and by saying that nothing’s off the table, they’ve picked out specific things – whether it’s the triple lock, or as another example, energy bills.”
He added: “When you’re saying we’re not taking anything off the table, I do think it’s reading too much into it to pick out specific things like the triple lock, which hasn’t specifically been mentioned.”
Asked if that meant pensioners could “breathe a little easier”, he said: “I would say so… yes.”
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Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Tory MPs have already imposed this year the biggest real-terms pension cut ever for Britain’s retirees and their disastrous budget has them considering further cuts to pensioners’ incomes." “Pensioners deserve so much better than Liz Truss and her disastrous mistakes that are leaving older people paying the price.”
The Liberal Democrats’ Pensions Spokeswoman Wendy Chamberlain added: “It would be a kick in the teeth for millions of people if Truss now backtracks on her triple lock promise.
"The British public will never forgive the Conservative Party if they break this promise.” In the Commons on Monday, Mr Hunt did not rule out the triple lock being suspended as he refused to make any commitments on “individual policy areas”. Around 12.5 million people who receive the state pension could be dealt a real-terms cut in earnings if their payments do not rise in line with inflation, standing at around 10%. On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics will publish the Consumer Price Index measure of inflation, on which changes to benefits and pension payments are calculated.