UK's Conservatives will commit to pensions triple lock, says Hunt

FILE PHOTO: British Finance Minister Hunt leaves Downing Street in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's ruling Conservative Party would commit to keeping the so-called triple lock for increasing state pensions, finance minister Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday, seeking to woo older voters ahead of an election expected later this year.

With the opposition Labour Party holding a strong lead in opinion polls, Hunt stepped up efforts to draw a dividing line between the parties by emphasising the Conservatives' commitment to lower taxation.

Under the existing pension triple lock system, the government has promised to raise publicly funded pensions by the level of earnings, inflation or 2.5%, whichever is highest.

"I can confirm it will be, yes," Hunt told BBC television when asked if the triple lock would be in the Conservatives' election manifesto policy programme.

Hunt added that his focus would be on cutting taxes when government finances allow.

"We do want to bring down the tax burden. And by the way, reducing the tax burden wasn't mentioned once in the shadow Chancellor's speech," he said, referring to a lecture given by Labour finance chief Rachel Reeves last Tuesday.

The cost of the pensions triple lock has come under increased scrutiny as British inflation has soared over the past two years, pushing up the government bill for state pensions by an additional 11 billion pounds ($13.9 billion) last year.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, independent from government, has identified the triple lock as a "fiscal risk", while the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank has said it makes government financial planning difficult because costs are hard to forecast.

Asked whether Labour would commit to the triple lock, chair Anneliese Dodds told the BBC that the party would set out its plan in due course.

Hunt welcomed last week's fall in inflation to 3.4% but said the rate was still too high.

"We're not there yet and we need to stick to the course because we need inflation to get down to 2%," he said.

($1 = 0.7936 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young and William Schomberg; Editing by David Goodman)