There are growing fears that the government is planning to go back on the undertaking of the last chancellor that benefits would be uprated in line with inflation next April.
Back in May, then chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Commons that benefits would be uprated in line with the September 2022 inflation figure, which is almost 10%.
At the time, inflation was expected begin to fall before April and Sunak said that this would lead to ‘a very significant increase in benefits next year, in excess of the rate of inflation, which will be very positive for those in receipt of them’.
However, the Truss government have already made it clear that they do not consider themselves bound by this.
On Wednesday , treasury secretary Chris Philp refused to commit to benefits rising in line with inflation, saying instead:
"I am not going to make policy commitments on live TV, it is going to be considered in the normal way. We will make a decision and it will be announced I am sure in the first instance to the House of Commons.”
Later, on a visit to Darlington, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng also refused to be drawn on benefits uprating, arguing:
“We are talking about helping people in the round. It is premature for me to come to a decision on that. But we are absolutely focused on making sure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected through what could be a challenging time.”
However, he did go on to guarantee that the triple lock on pensions would be maintained, suggesting that there are some decisions it is not premature to make.
With the government desperate to find savings to pay for its tax cuts for the wealthy and for large businesses, cutting the benefits bill is an obvious target.
But as Unison’s general Secretary Christine McAnea pointed out:
“Suggestions that benefits won’t rise with soaring inflation and beleaguered public services are to be squeezed is a terrifying prospect. The government seems to have no idea of the damage its foolhardy approach is wreaking.”
Claimants lost out in the last uprating round because inflation took off after September 2021, the month when the following April’s uprating was set. If they are now to be cheated of the proper rate of increase it will have a disastrous effect on many people’s ability to cope financially.
But Truss is known to have a strong antipathy to ‘recycling’ taxpayers money through the benefits system and it is likely that enormous pressure will need to be brought to bear on the government to ensure that claimants get the support they need.
We’ll keep readers updated.