Michael Gove has refused three times to say benefits should rise in line with inflation amid the cost of living crisis.
This comes just weeks after he told the media – while consigned to the backbenches – that former prime minister Liz Truss should ensure benefits increase with rocketing inflation, with prices currently 10.1% higher than they were a year ago. The Bank of England’s target is 2%.
But now Gove, once again part of the government having been appointed by Rishi Sunak this week, is refusing to repeat this claim.
Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show, levelling up secretary Gove was reminded of these comments and asked if he still stands by them.
Yet he would only say: "We're going to have some very, very tough decisions to make in the autumn statement."
The autumn statement is scheduled to be made by chancellor Jeremy Hunt on 17 November in a bid to reverse the market turmoil inflicted by Truss's disastrous administration.
Gove added: "As I mentioned earlier, Rishi's whole instinct, everything he has done in politics, is to seek to protect the vulnerable..."
"Sounds like you're walking away from that then," presenter Kuenssberg interjected.
"I can't anticipate what the chancellor’s going to announce,” Gove replied.
Invited one last time to say if he still wants benefits to rise in line with inflation, Gove again rejected the opportunity: "I want to make sure we protect the vulnerable and I know that Rishi is absolutely locked onto that goal."
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It comes after Sunak himself did not commit to increasing benefits with inflation – something he previously committed to when chancellor – when challenged by the SNP at his first Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
Since becoming PM on Tuesday, Sunak has only said the government will have to take "difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence", but that he "will always protect the most vulnerable".
But ex-chancellor Philip Hammond, speaking on the same show after Gove's interview on Sunday, said: "All chancellors, all governments, try and roll the pitch ahead of any budget or statement.
"I'd be very surprised if they don't end up uprating benefits in line with inflation."
Green MP Caroline Lucas disagreed, saying: "The fact that this government right now can't say it will uprate those benefits in line with inflation, I think is deeply concerning for so many people for whom this is a matter of almost life and death... he [Sunak] should be able to say this right now."