More than thirty thousand Express readers are piling the pressure on Rishi Sunak over the pensions triple lock. A total of 30,105 angry pensioners have signed a petition set up by this publication and over-60s campaign group Silver Voices to demand the Government honour its manifesto pledge. The number continues to rise.
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The new Prime Minister has yet to guarantee the funding formula, which would see a 10.1 percent hike in state pensions next April. Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt need to find about £50billion in savings to plug a hole in the public finances.
New Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said today (October 31) a decision about whether benefits and pensions will be uprated in line with inflation will not be made until “at least” November 17.
Tory MPs were among those applying pressure to the new Secretary of State to make the call ahead of the Chancellor’s autumn statement on November 17.
Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Dr Caroline Johnson told the Commons: “The Government has done a lot to support people with their cost-of-living challenges, but elderly residents in my constituency are really troubled by reports in the newspapers suggesting we may not meet our manifesto commitment of keeping pensions up with the triple lock.”
He asked: “The Prime Minister tells us we don’t need a General Election because the 2019 manifesto gives him and the Conservative Party a mandate. Given that manifesto committed to the triple lock, why can he not give the reassurance to pensioners that they deserve?
“Can I ask him a second point? Can he give a categorical assurance that in the Autumn Statement he will rule out means testing personal independence payments, carers’ allowance, attendance allowance, and disability living allowance for children?”
Mr Stride replied: “On a whole host of areas there he is inviting me to break with what has been a very longstanding and quite correct convention that when it comes to a major fiscal event, ministers simply do not provide a running commentary as to what may or may not be in that fiscal event.”
Elsewhere, Labour chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, Sir Stephen Timms, raised the alarm about the “shameful” rise in dependence on foodbanks.
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He added: “It was up by 46 percent in August and September on a year previously according to the Trussell Trust and it’s reported in the press today that hospitals are seeing a big rise in malnutrition cases.
“The Family Resources Survey says that food insecurity amongst Universal Credit claimants fell from 43 percent to 27 percent after the £20 a week uplift was introduced. Doesn’t all that show how crucial it is that the Prime Minister keeps the promise he made as Chancellor to uprate benefits next April by 10.1 percent?”
Mr Stride replied: “I’m not going to pre-empt my decision on the uprating of benefits or indeed the triple lock and we will need to wait until at least November 17 when the Chancellor will come to the House with his autumn statement and those details will be known at that point.”
He added: “Any element of food insecurity is too much. I recognise that and that is why this Government and this Prime Minister in particular are absolutely determined to use whatever we have at our disposal to work on those figures and to improve them.”
The Prime Minister said last Friday he was working through “difficult decisions” with Mr Hunt after they were warned economic growth is forecast to drop amid a looming recession.
A day earlier the pair held a meeting on the November 17 budget which lasted for more than an hour with the mood characterised as “sober”.
Treasury sources declined to put a figure on the savings under consideration but they were believed to be looking for financial headroom of up to £10bn.
Along with the “massive fiscal black hole” forecast as being up to £40bn, they were thought to be targeting up to £50bn of cuts and tax hikes to fill the gap.
Mr Sunak said he was “confident” they can rectify the “mistakes” of Ms Truss’s leadership, as he focused on bringing down inflation and limiting rises in interest rates.
He said on a visit to Croydon University Hospital in south London: “The Chancellor has already said of course difficult decisions are going to have to be made and I’m going to sit down and work through those with him.
“But what I want everyone to know is that we need to do these things so we can get our borrowing and debt back on a sustainable path.
“That’s important because it means we can get a grip of inflation. If we do that, it means we can limit as best as possible the increase in interest rates, which is important.
“But as we do that, I want people to be reassured, we will always do it with fairness at the heart, we will protect the most vulnerable and ensure that we can continue to grow the economy in the long run.”