Former chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he will provide vulnerable households with “hundreds of pounds more” to help with energy bills if he becomes prime minister.
His comment came just hours after leadership rival Liz Truss refused to commit to direct payments to those hardest-hit, insisting that her planned emergency budget will focus on tax cuts instead.
Speaking ahead of the latest hustings clash with Truss before an audience of Conservative activists in Darlington on Tuesday, Mr Sunak said the foreign secretary’s plans would not provide any help for pensioners and those on low incomes who are expected to suffer most from rocketing gas and electricity prices.
Mr Sunak declined to set out precisely how he would add to the assistance package which he previously announced in May and which is worth £1,200 each to the most vulnerable households.
But asked whether it would amount to “hundreds of pounds more”, he told ITV News: “Yes. I want to make sure pensioners and the low-income households that I care most about do get the help that they need.
“I’m always going to want to make sure that those families have that peace of mind, particularly those on pensions and low incomes.
“And what I am worried about – as I said – is Liz Truss’s plans on tax are not going to provide any help for those people.”
The former chancellor announced in May that every household would get £400 off their energy bills, while those on means-tested benefits would receive a further £650 and people with disabilities another £150.
But anti-poverty campaigners believe that the £15bn package – drawn up at a time when the energy price cap was expected to reach £2,800 in October – must be doubled in response to forecasts of a cap of more than £3,500 this autumn and over £4,000 in the spring.
Mr Sunak said he was “confident” that the money needed could be found from savings on government waste.
Ms Truss today refused to offer immediate help with rocketing energy bills, amid mounting clamour for an emergency budget.
Asked repeatedly in a TV interview whether she was ruling out direct payments to households worst-hit by inflation, the foreign secretary did not deny the claim, instead saying that she wanted to focus on tax cuts.
And she indicated she will resist calls from former prime minister Gordon Brown and the CBI for her to get together with Mr Sunak and Boris Johnson to agree an immediate package of help, saying that she would not “write the budget in advance”.
Sunak ally Dominic Raab today warned that Ms Truss’s plans for tax cuts will be “electoral suicide” for the Conservatives, as they will not deliver the help needed by millions of households forced to cut back on food and heating this winter.
Truss supporters appeared earlier this week to be backing away from Ms Truss’s rejection of “handouts”, suggesting that she would provide help of some kind if elected Conservative leader on 5 September.
But challenged during a visit to Huddersfield today over whether that would mean further direct payments of the kind offered by Mr Sunak earlier this year, she gave no indication that she favours the approach.
“What I’m doing is making sure people are paying less taxes and also having a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy to save people money on their fuel bills,” she said.
“I’m not going to write the budget in advance. We’ll see what the situation is like in the autumn.
“But I’m committed to making sure people are supported. And I’m committed to growing the economy.
“What I am clear about is that, from day one, I will reduce taxes… What’s important is that we get the economy growing. We can’t get the economy growing if we have the highest tax rates for 70 years in this country. And I’m determined to change that.
“I’m determined to challenge the orthodoxy. And I’m determined to do things differently. But I’m not going to write the budget in advance.”
Mr Sunak has warned that Mr Truss’s plan to reverse his National Insurance hike will save low-income families less than £200 a year, while the removal of green levies will save each household an average £150, at a time when consumers are facing a leap in the energy price cap from £1,971 now to £3,500 or more in October and over £4,000 in January.