Prime Minister Theresa May has moved to calm fears that she plans to kill off the triple lock protecting state pensions.
Mrs May was forced to defend her position after former pensions minister Baroness Altmann called for the lock to be abolished and suggested the new Prime Minister could be more supportive of the idea than her predecessor.
But a Number 10 spokesman said: “The manifesto contains a commitment to protect the triple lock. That commitment still stands.”
Lady Altmann, who left her post in Mrs May’s Cabinet reshuffle, warned the cost of keeping the safeguard would be “enormous” after the slated next general election in 2020.
The Conservative peer said she tried last year to persuade then PM David Cameron to drop the triple lock – which sees pensions rise annually by whichever is highest of the inflation rate, average earnings or 2.5 per cent – but he refused for political reasons.
Lady Altmann said yesterday: “The triple lock is a political construct, a totemic policy that is easy for politicians to trumpet, but from a pure policy perspective, keeping it forever doesn’t make sense.
“I was proposing a double lock, whereby either you increase state pensions in line with prices or with earnings.
“Absolutely we must protect pensioner incomes, but the 2.5 per cent bit doesn’t make sense. If, for example, we went into a period of deflation where everything, both earnings and prices, was falling, then putting up pensions by 2.5 per cent is a bit out of all proportion.
“Politically, nobody had the courage to stand up and say we have done what we needed to do.”
The former minister suggested the triple lock could be abandoned now Mrs May is Prime Minister.
Lady Altmann said: “With David Cameron it was more difficult, it was his flagship policy. But from 2020, and even now, he is not there.”
Mrs May’s joint chief of staff Nick Timothy wrote in an article for the Conservative Home website last November that the “obvious alternative” to welfare credit cuts – ie, looking at the triple lock – was “off the table” for then chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Timothy wrote: “He could redistribute the welfare cuts to take the pressure off low-paid, working people. But the obvious alternative is already off the table: pensioner benefits are protected and so is the ‘triple lock’.”