Dominic Raab has defended the government’s decision to hand out an inflation-linked increase in state pensions next year, while it rallies against similar wage rises for striking rail workers.
The justice secretary said old age pensioners were in a “different position” to rail workers, because they were “disproportionately affected by the increase in energy costs which we know everyone is facing”.
The Treasury confirmed yesterday that the pension triple lock will come back into place, which means payments for old age pensioners will increase by the UK’s annual inflation rate as of September – an expected 10 or 11 per cent.
Annual growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) hit a 40-year high of 9.1 per cent today.
Around 6m people will also see their benefits rise in line with inflation, with the two increases set to cost the taxpayer around £20bn.
The decision to bring back the pension triple lock comes despite the government not supporting striking workers asking for a seven per cent wage increase from the UK’s rail firms.
When asked about this contradiction by the BBC, Raab said: “Look, it is very important we rally together and try and get through this inflation spike as swiftly as we can.
“I would say two things, one on your specific question, it is not true to say the constant, unyielding or blind support for pensioners, the triple lock was relaxed recently and temporarily.
“But the reason they are in a different position, and our overall objective to answer the narrative point is to protect the most vulnerable, it is because they are particularly vulnerable and are disproportionately affected by the increase in energy costs which we know everyone is facing.”
When asked about the rationale behind inflation-linked increases to old age pension payments, former Conservative Treasury minister Lord Jim O’Neill said: “I have no idea … the constant protection of pensioners seems ludicrous in itself and in these circumstances particularly crazy.”
The UK was brought to a standstill yesterday by industrial action on the railways, with more than 40,000 members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) walking off the job.
They will return to the picket line tomorrow and on Saturday.
Anthony Smith, head of the Transport Focus travel watchdog, told the BBC that “today is going to be quite a messy day still” with widespread disruption expected.
Only around 60 per cent of services will run today and many services will end earlier in preparation for tomorrow’s strikes.
RMT boss Mick Lynch said his members want a seven per cent increase in wages and a promise that there will be no extension to a 35-hour working week.
They are also fighting against potential future job cuts through widespread automation of the railways and train stations.
Lynch called for the UK’s unions to “synchronise our campaigning” yesterday amid fears the country is heading for a summer of strikes across different sectors.
“If the government and the employers do not change their direction, I believe that more ballots for strike action are inevitable and more action is inevitable,” he said.
“We need mass rallies, we need people on the streets, we need protests in every town and city in Britain and if we have to have industrial action, we should coordinate that industrial action so that it has the most effect possible.”
Raab said that “if we want to get inflation down quicker we cannot relent … on these demands”.
“I always want to avoid conflict if I can but I think we have got to protect the public and the lowest paid and that means not allowing a vicious cycle of higher inflation for longer. That is an argument that we must stand firm on,” he said.