Rishi Sunak has used his new year speech to outline five key “promises” that we wants his premiership to be judged on.
The Prime Minister insisted he would not offer “false hope” or “quick fixes”, and would instead deliver “meaningful, lasting change” that will restore “optimism, hope and pride” in Britain. But this did not stop him from making some pretty huge pledges in his first public address of 2023, on topics ranging from the crisis in the NHS to soaring inflation and the cost of living crisis.
Some of the issues he did not touch on in huge detail include the ongoing strike disruption or childcare availability, which will likely raise a few eyebrows within the public sector. But if you missed it, here’s exactly what the Prime Minister said in his speech - as well as what he didn’t.
Sunak centred his speech around the five priorities of his government. These were:
1. Halving inflation to ease the cost of living
One of the Prime Minister’s most eye-catching proposals was cutting inflation – which is currently at 10.7 per cent – by half. This, he pledged, would reduce the burden of the cost of living crisis and “give people financial security”.
Over Christmas and the New Year, food inflation accelerated to record levels - resulting in a challenging holiday period for many. The price of groceries jumped to a fresh high of 13.3% in December, up from 12.4% in November, at a time when families and households were already struggling with energy bills.
2. Growing the economy to create better-paid jobs
Sunak lamented the fact that one quarter of the UK’s workforce is “inactive” as he promised to encourage more people back into jobs. He said this was important to him as jobs help people find “purpose, confidence and dignity”, as well as offering the chance to “build a better life.”
“If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded,” the Prime Minister insisted. “That is why we will reduce the burden of taxation on working people as soon as we can.”
3. Ensuring national debt is falling to secure the future of public services
After Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s notoriously disastrous mini budget, the UK’s national debt soared. This resulted in Jeremy Hunt’s “tough decisions” Autumn Statement, in which he raised taxes to reassure the financial markets.
Sunak has now promised to bring down national debt, something the Labour Party has already slammed as a “do-nothing promise”. They said: “Targeting lower public sector net debt is an existing government fiscal target that the OBR already expected it to meet. At the end of the forecast period (2027/28), the OBR still expects debt to be 30% higher as a percentage of GDP than when Conservatives came to power.”
4. Cutting NHS waiting lists so people get the care they need more quickly
Sunak said he was aware that the public is “anxious” about what’s going on with the NHS - from watching ambulances queuing outside hospitals to not being seen in A&E for several hours. But he promised the government was taking “urgent action” by providing 7,000 more hospital beds and increasing funding to social care so more people can be discharged from hospitals.
The Richmond MP’s comments come on the same day he received an open letter from the Doctors’ Association UK, which warned that 500 people are dying every week as a result of delayed emergency care. They said the NHS is at breaking point, with staff shortages, chaotic A&E departments, and 12 hour plus waiting times - which has resulted in substandard conditions for patients and is risking lives.
5. Passing new laws to stop small boats to make sure those who come to the UK illegally are detained and removed
Immigration has been a key focus of the Prime Minister’s since he took office in October - and even more so in the month since net migration hit a record high of half a million. Sunak and his Home Secretary Suella Braverman have vowed to be particularly harsh on small boat crossings, and won a victory recently when the High Court ruled the government’s controversial plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda were lawful.
Sunak also recently announced that the UK had signed a deal with Albania to speed up the removal of recent arrivals from the country. As part of this, a dedicated unit of 400 specialists will be set up specifically to handle claims from Albanians.
Outside of these main priorities, the Conservative Party leader also promised to crack down on crime - including tackling violence against women and girls which he said “means men taking responsibility for creating a culture and society where women are safe in their communities and at home.”
“We’ve got to reduce reoffending, because a small number of career criminals account for a disproportionate amounts of crime,” the Prime Minister said, “and we’ve got to beat addiction, because heroin and crack addicts account for almost half of all robberies.” He then moved on to anti-social behaviour, which he promised to be harsher on. This is something the Labour Party also shone a spotlight on recently by proposing to let victims choose their offenders’ punishment.
Following on from a flurry of news stories on Wednesday (4 January), Sunak addressed the prospect of making it mandatory for students to study maths until the age of 18. He said this “did not mean forcing everyone to take an A-Level in maths”, but instead meant all children will “study some form of numeracy” until they leave school. This, he said, will help young people “feel comfortable with their finances, find the best mortgage rates, get paid more, and do better in their jobs.”
On strikes, Sunak gave no indication of when the industrial action is likely to end - or whether the government will be offering pay rises to public sector workers. What the Prime Minister did say is he felt there was “misinformation” about the government’s attitude to those striking - so he promised that ministers “hugely value” public sector workers, mentioning nurses in particular.
Sunak added that what he wanted was a “reasonable dialogue with unions about what is responsible and fair for our country”, before promising to offer more updates on the situation in the next few days. Nursing unions previously promised to “press pause” on strikes if the government entered pay talks.