Rishi Sunak has refused to commit to keeping the pensions triple lock in the next Conservative manifesto, as he grapples with how to fund tax cuts demanded by his own MPs.
The prime minister told reporters during the G20 summit in Delhi that the triple lock – which guarantees that pensions will rise by at least 2.5%, and by either inflation or earnings if they are higher – remains government policy.
But pushed on whether it would also be included in the next manifesto, he said: “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. I’m not going to get into our manifesto now but the triple lock has been a long-standing policy for us.”
The triple lock was brought in by the coalition government in 2011, and has since led to pensions rising far quicker than wages.
However, Sunak is also under pressure from his own MPs to find money for future tax cuts.
When asked this weekend about reports that his chancellor is planning to cut benefits to fund tax cuts at next year’s budget, Sunak replied: “There’s lots of different ways you can help people … We’ve helped people with energy bills support directly this year, we provided direct cost of living payments. There’s lots of different ways to get support to the people who need it.”
Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the work and pensions committee, said cutting benefits during a cost of living crisis “ought to be unthinkable”.
While cutting benefits to pay for tax cuts is likely to please many in the Conservative party, eliminating the triple lock would be far more contentious with Tory MPs and voters, despite how much it costs.
Pensioners will find out on Tuesday how much their payments are set to increase, with data expected to show that average earnings from May to July rose by about 8%.
An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows pensioners are receiving nearly £100 a month more than they would have if pensions had gone up in line with either earnings or inflation, costing the government an extra £11bn a year.
The report found that it will cost as much as £45bn a year extra by 2050.
Mel Stride, the pensions secretary, has previously said it would “almost certainly” continue to be Conservative policy going into the next election, but would not give an absolute guarantee.
Labour has also not said whether it will include the policy in its next manifesto, though a spokesperson for Keir Starmer has said the Labour leader remains committed it.
Any attempt to remove the guarantee is likely to meet with an angry response from older voters who helped the Tories win the last election. Two-thirds of voters aged 70 or above voted Conservative at the 2019 election, while only one in five people aged 18-24 did so.