28 May 2024

‘The Conservatives don’t owe Angela Rayner an apology,’ says work and pensions secretary

We spoke to work and pensions secretary Mel Stride following the announcement police have dropped an investigation into Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner,

We began by asking him whether the Conservative party owes her an apology.

Mel Stride: No, I don’t think so, because my understanding is what the police have said is that they’re passing some information over to the local authority, and that might be for issues around council tax and over to HMRC, which of course might be for issues around taxation. So the police have said they’ve got no further interest in it.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: So she didn’t break the law, and Keir Starmer was right, it turns out, not to look into it.

Mel Stride: As I say, information has been passed over to the local authority and passed over to HMRC.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Sounds like you’re trying to carry on the smear.

Mel Stride: No, I’m not at all. I’m just stating the facts of the statement that the Greater Manchester Police have issued. That is what they have stated.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Don’t you think it’s not been a good thing in politics to have these kinds of personal attacks, which are just designed to sort of attack an individual. It’s an ad hominem attack.

Mel Stride: Well, that’s the way you’re presenting it. I think it did surface some issues that needed to be looked at. The police have done that, and as I say, they’ve passed further information on.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But what was the thing that you thought she’d done wrong?

Mel Stride: I’m not going to sit here and dissect all the intricate ins and outs of this issue, other than to say that the police have made a very clear statement, and what they have said is that they have passed information on now to the local authority, and they have passed information on to HMRC. And that’s what we know at this time.

Pension promise

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: On policy, you’ve decided to reverse one of your tax policies with regard to pensioners. Have you given up trying to win the election?

Mel Stride: No, not at all.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Is this just a core vote strategy, go for the old people?

Mel Stride: No, what we’ve done already Krishnan, as you will know, is we’ve slashed National Insurance and employees’ National Insurance by a third. That already is benefiting 29 million working people. What we’re now doing is, given what the current taxation arrangements are as applied to pensioners, what we’re saying is going forward, we will be bringing in measures which we’re calling the triple-lock plus, which will increase the personal allowance, i.e. the amount that you can earn without paying any income tax.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: It will exempt pensioners from the fiscal drag that everyone else is feeling.

Mel Stride: So what that will do is mean that pensioners both don’t have to be pulled into tax, if it’s just a state pension that’s their income, and equally it will be a tax cut of hundreds of pounds for pensioners.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But this is just the Conservative u-turn. It was George Osborne who changed the rules on pensioners tax thresholds. He brought them down, then you put them up and now you’re pulling them down. You’re going around in circles.

Mel Stride: You’ve been around long enough to know that taxes move in all sorts of directions over many years.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: So you are going around in circles on this particular issue.

Mel Stride: Not at all. What we have done is we have cut, for working people – 29 million – we have had a huge tax cut. What we’re now doing is we’re making absolutely certain that we provide tax cuts to pensioners over the coming years.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Why are pensioners who just had a £900 increase in their pension more deserving than single mothers or working couples who are going to food banks, who are desperately trying to make ends meet and are trying to do the right thing by going to work?

Mel Stride: This government has a very strong track record in bearing down on poverty. So we’ve seen a reduction in poverty of over a million people since 2010. And for example, through the welfare system for which I am responsible as secretary of state, there are many different ways in which we intervene through cash transfer payment, through tax breaks and so on. Through increasing, for example, the National Living Wage.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: You’re giving the pensioners more today. That’s your big policy. You’re not giving struggling parents or single mothers more, you’re giving the pensioners more. Many of whom are very rich.

Mel Stride: If you were interviewing me a little while ago, you would be saying, ‘look, you’re giving all these huge tax breaks to those that are in work and of working age. What are you doing about pensioners?’ Well, today we’ve answered that question.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: I’m asking you, why is a millionaire pensioner more deserving?

Mel Stride: We’ve made it very clear that pensioners really matter to this government.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: They matter to the Conservative party, because they are the people who vote and that’s what this is about.

Mel Stride: You know how much they matter to the Labour government? The last Labour government gave us a 75p pension increase. They also raided private pensions to the tune of £118 billion. And do you know what the result of that was? The fourth highest pensioner poverty in the whole of Europe.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: And an apology from the Labour government.

Mel Stride: Yes, but give them half a chance and they will do it again.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: So you’re proving my point. This is a core vote strategy for older voters. For younger people, you’re saying ‘you go off and join the army.’ Older voters, ‘here have a tax break.’ It’s so transparent.

Mel Stride: You’re mixing up several different things there. We believe that pensioners matter, we always have done, which is why we brought in the triple-lock in the first place. It’s added to the state pension £3,700 since 2010. But we’re going further still with pensioners, to make sure that they don’t pay tax if they’re solely reliant on that state pension, and if they do pay tax because they have other forms of income, then we’re giving them a tax cut.