Rishi Sunak has promised to step in to help people on lower incomes this winter

Tory leadership candidate Rishi Sunak has said his rival Liz Truss’s plans to cut taxes “won’t touch the sides” of dealing with mounting living costs.

Writing in the Sun, Mr Sunak said “bolder action” was needed to “protect people from the worst of the winter”.

But Ms Truss’s allies said tax cuts would put more money in people’s pockets and did not rule out more help.

The worsening state of the UK economy has become main battleground in the Tory leadership contest.

Both candidates have put forward rival visions to deal with the economic fallout, with Ms Truss focusing on tax cuts, and Mr Sunak on bringing down inflation.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak are vying for support from Conservative party members to be elected the Tory next party leader, and British prime minister.

Voting has started and the result is due to be announced on 5 September, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson will leave office.

Ms Truss has pledged a package of tax cuts worth £30bn, which Mr Sunak has argued would increase inflation and only save lower earners £59 a year.

Taking aim at Ms Truss’s economic plans, Mr Sunak wrote in the Sun: “We need clear-eyed realism, not starry-eyed boosterism.”

Mr Sunak also accused Ms Truss of offering large businesses and “the well-off” a “big bung”, while “leaving those who most need help out in the cold”.

Defending Ms Truss, supporter and former Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the BBC the best way to ease rising living costs was “lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”.

He said he would not pre-judge what would be in an emergency budget, which has been promised by Ms Truss if she became prime minister.

Mr Lewis said: “She’s willing to do more to help people but her focus is around doing it in a way that puts more money in people’s pockets, creating a high-growth economy with higher wages, more people in work.”

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Sunak pulls no punches

Analysis box by Nick Eardley, political correspondent

The cost of living crisis will be one of the biggest issues facing the new prime minister when they take office.

Liz Truss had faced pressure after saying at the weekend that she wanted to do things in a Conservative way; lowering the tax burden and not giving handouts.

Low taxes and a smaller state are popular with many Conservative members, who are choosing the next prime minister. But Ms Truss’s critics say her comments failed to acknowledge the extent of the problems many will face this winter.

Her allies have spent the past 24 hours insisting she is not ruling out more direct support in an emergency budget if she becomes prime minister.

But Rishi Sunak is not pulling any punches with his criticism this morning.

He argues his rivals’ plans won’t touch the sides.

Mr Sunak is promising bolder action. But he has not set out what that would be.

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Over the weekend Ms Truss came under fire from Mr Sunak’s allies for suggesting – in an interview with the Financial Times – there would be no “handouts” to ease the financial burden on households.

She told the FT she would look at what more “could be done”, adding: “The way I would do things is in a Conservative way of lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts.”

Oliver Dowden, former Conservative party chairman and supporter of Mr Sunak’s candidacy, has said the “precise nature” of support offered by the former chancellor “will depend on exact level of the energy cap when that is announced in due course”.

The energy price cap – the maximum amount suppliers can charge customers in England, Scotland and Wales for each unit of energy – will go up in October.

Energy industry analysts Cornwall Insight estimated the typical domestic customer was likely to pay £3,358 a year from October.

Meanwhile, the UK economy is expected to plunge into a year-long recession as inflation soars above 13% later this year, according to forecasts by the Bank of England.

Mr Dowden told the BBC people could judge Mr Sunak “by his record” that the former chancellor would bring in “direct support” for people to help them with the cost of living.

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