Liz Truss has refused to commit to raising benefits in line with inflation, amid a fresh battle with MPs over cuts to spending including concern from among her cabinet.
The prime minister said pensions would rise in line with inflation, having committed to the pensions “triple lock” during the leadership campaign. But she said people on welfare benefits were in a “different situation” and said they were more able to look for more work.
“When people are on a fixed income, when they are pensioners, it is quite hard to adjust. I think it’s a different situation for people who are in the position to be able to work,” she told LBC. “What I want to do is make sure that we are helping more people into work.”
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ministers were “going to have to make decisions about how we bring down debt as a proportion of GDP in the medium term … I am very committed to supporting the most vulnerable.”
Truss also said she was prepared to listen to colleagues in the party, after dozens warned the prime minister over the weekend they would not accept the abolition of the top tax rate of 45%, forcing a U-turn by the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng.
“I love all of my parliamentary colleagues in the Conservative party and I love hearing their opinions and talking to them,” she said. “I want to win over hearts and minds in the country, but also amongst my parliamentary colleagues, to make sure that we are able to deliver for the people of Britain.”
Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, has told Times Radio she backed benefits rising in line with inflation, rather than changing the formula to make them keep pace with wages – in effect a real-terms cut.
“I’ve always supported – whether it’s pensions, whether it’s our welfare system – keeping pace with inflation. It makes sense to do so. That’s what I voted for before,” Mordaunt told Times Radio.
Others who have criticised the potential cut and warned of an MPs’ rebellion include the former cabinet ministers Damian Green, Michael Gove and Esther McVey, as well as John Glen, the former Treasury minister, and Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee.
Mel Stride, the chair of the Treasury select committee, told Today those on benefits were already feeling the squeeze. “They’re pegged against the previous September’s inflation, and the way it worked last time was the uprating was just 3.1% because inflation was low the previous September, but of course inflation was much higher than that [in April].
“So we’re coming off the back actually of a kind of quite a strong real-terms squeeze on those benefits already so I think that will be a really tough call to make.”
Green said Truss probably did not have enough support in the Commons to prevent an inflation-linked rise to benefits.
In her interviews, Truss said she was not keen on the word “austerity” but suggested there would be further public spending cuts.
“What I’m talking about is fiscal responsibility. I’m talking about getting debt down as a proportion of GDP,” she told LBC. “After we’ve had this extraordinary crisis, you know, after Putin invaded Ukraine, we’ve seen energy bills rise up … Within a week of becoming prime minister, I took urgent action to help people with those energy bills. That’s cost us money in the short term.
“We do need to pay it down over the longer term, but it’s also why we’ve taken all these decisions to boost economic growth.”