Rishi Sunak has promised to give “hundreds of pounds” more to people for energy bills while Liz Truss refused to commit to extra support for struggling families.
Mr Sunak said he is “confident” he could find the money needed to support people with the rising cost of living from government efficiency savings if was to become prime minister.
He told ITV News it “would be wrong” to put a precise figure on how much money he would give people as we do not know how much energy bills are going to go up by after analysts warned energy bills could top £4,200 in January.
However, asked if it would be “hundreds of pounds more”, Mr Sunak said: “Yes. I want to make sure pensioners and the low-income households that I care most about do get the help that they need.
“And I want them to have peace of mind.”
Elaborating on how the additional funding would be paid for, he said: “I’m confident that we can find the money from across government.”
Last night, his team said he would make Whitehall departments cut back by using underspending from their capital budgets to fund the energy bills help.
The underspend has been around £3bn a year recently.
His pledge came after the two candidates faced renewed calls to explain how they would help after Cornwall Insight forecast average bills could hit £4,200 in January, up from £1,971 today.
Ms Truss insisted her priority was driving through tax cuts to kick-start the economy and would “see what the situation is like” in the autumn.
But Mr Sunak said he was concerned his rival Ms Truss’s plans on tax will not provide any help for low-income and pensioner households.
He also criticised her for suggesting at the weekend there should be no more “handouts”, with his spokesman saying she is “divorced from reality”.
The pair will face more questions from Conservative members at a hustings in Darlington this evening.
‘Bury your differences’
On Tuesday, Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis called on the two contenders to bury their differences to tackle the problem together, warning the country was facing a “national cataclysm”.
He said the “zombie government needs to wake up sooner than 5 September”, when the new Tory leader and prime minister will be announced, as the new bill predictions are “unaffordable for millions”.
Mr Sunak on Tuesday doubled down on controversial comments he made last week in which he told Conservative members “deprived urban areas” were being handed too much money at the expense of affluent Royal Tunbridge Wells.
“My point is that there are pockets of poverty that exist everywhere,” he told ITV News.
“They’re not just in big urban cities. They are in small towns. They are in rural areas. There’s poverty everywhere that we need to tackle and make sure gets the investment it needs.”
He insisted he was talking about large cities and was speaking to people “in a broader rural area” and it was “not about Tunbridge Wells”.
“I think it is incredibly wrong to suggest that there isn’t poverty or inequality in rural areas. That’s absurd,” he added.
Mr Sunak said he would be “absolutely” happy to repeat what he said in Newcastle city centre and said as chancellor he “focused a lot of attention on Teesside”.
The former chancellor added that he is “definitely the underdog in this race” after multiple polls since the candidates were whittled down to two have put Ms Truss as the frontrunner.
But he said he is “giving it absolutely everything I’ve got” and he thinks the message “is really resonating with people”.
It was Mr Sunak and former health secretary Sajid Javid’s resignation that kicked off a slew of cabinet members quitting, forcing Boris Johnson to step down a month ago.
And Mr Sunak said he has not spoken to Mr Johnson since then.
Asked if the situation is “quite raw” between the pair, he hinted that Mr Johnson might be resentful, teling ITV: “Well, that’s a question for him rather than for me.”