Rishi Sunak’s five pledges: What are they and can they be achieved?

Labour was quick to accuse Rishi Sunak of making promises he would ‘struggle not to keep’, after the Prime Minister delivered a major speech.

04 January 2023

The Prime Minister used his first major speech of the new year to set out five pledges he said would address “the people’s priorities”, including halving inflation by the end of the year and and bringing down NHS waiting lists.

Rishi Sunak, addressing an audience in Stratford in east London, called them “five foundations on which to build a better future for our children and grandchildren”.

Labour was quick to accuse Mr Sunak of making promises he would “struggle not to keep”, but what commitments did the still-new Prime Minister make and what will they mean for the country over the next 12 months?

1. Inflation

Mr Sunak said that the Government will “halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security”.

Soaring inflation, in part driven by the war in Ukraine, has been among the biggest challenges for the Government and the rising cost of living has caused misery for millions of households.

The Prime Minister, who was chancellor under Boris Johnson, told reporters that the halving of inflation, currently at 10.7% according to the Consumer Prices Index, would be part of a “path to restoring inflation back to where it belongs, which is the 2% inflation target that we set the Bank of England”.

Budget 2021
Mr Sunak previously served as chancellor (Victoria Jones/PA)

Hopes had already growing that the worst inflation has now passed, with rates forecasted to ease back sharply throughout 2023.

Economists have said that inflation will steadily fall back over 2023, and halve as the Prime Minister hopes by the end of the year.

But many attribute that to the impact of the predicted recession in the UK, as well as drops in the price of oil and some food ingredients.

2. Growing the economy

Mr Sunak promised to “grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country”.

The UK’s sluggish growth rates has been one of the key talking points for politicians in recent months and was a major pre-occupation of Mr Sunak’s short-lived predecessor Liz Truss.

Growing the economy, with better paid jobs across the UK, was also a central pre-occupation of Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda and Mr Sunak re-iterated that promise on Wednesday as he said that he would deliver “greater investment in local areas, to boost growth, create jobs”.

A view of the London skyline  (Steven Paston/PA)
A view of the London skyline (Steven Paston/PA)

But in the short-term, the economy faces serious challenges.

The Office for Budget Responsibility in November predicted that the economy would contract by 1.4% in 2023, while unemployment could also rise by more than 500,000.

Labour pointed out that “the UK is one of the only advanced economies to not grow this year, so we could hardly do worse than we were”.

3. National debt falling

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that the Government would ensure that the UK’s “national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services”.

The language chimes with the former chancellor’s reputation for fiscal rectitude, but the promise is not new.

Much of the Chancellor’s autumn statement was focused on putting UK finances back on a more sustainable footing, with Jeremy Hunt repeatedly warning that difficult decisions were needed to balance the books.

The sign for His Majesty’s Treasury (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)
The sign for His Majesty’s Treasury (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)

Mr Sunak admitted as much as he took questions from reporters, as he said: “We already have got plans in place to make sure that debt does fall in the medium term”.

“The key is sticking to those and making sure that we have the discipline to do so because that’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do to secure the future of public services and indeed to combat inflation.”

4. Falling NHS waiting lists

With the NHS under severe pressure and senior medics offering increasingly stark warnings about the state of the health service, the Prime Minister promised that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

The Government has acknowledged that waiting lists are a major issue, even as Downing Street stopped short of calling some the pressures of recent weeks a full-blown crisis.

Blame has largely fallen on Covid-19 and the impact of the flu cases and Strep A, even as medics point to longstanding issues with the health service.

“Covid has imposed massive new pressures and people are waiting too long for the care they need,” Mr Sunak said.

Industrial strike
Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital in east London (James Manning/PA)

“We’re fixing that, but we need to do more.”

The NHS in England has previously estimated that the waiting list will be reducing by around March 2024.

While the renewed promise was welcomed on Wednesday, many pointed out that the speech lacked a clear plan for achieving it.

NHS Providers’ director of communications Adam Brimelow said: “The Prime Minister’s pledge to cut waiting lists so that people get the care they need more quickly is an ambition that everyone in the NHS shares.

“But his speech was short on detail about how this will be achieved.”

5. Illegal migration

The Prime Minister has spoken at length before about illegal migration and Channel crossings, which he has repeatedly described as among his top priorities.

“We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed,” he said.

Plans for the new legislation had already been announced last year, with the prime minister offering little extra detail on Wednesday with no clear timeline of when that legislation will pass.

“Ultimately Parliament decides how long it takes to pass that legislation,” he said.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He told reporters that he deliberately “chose not put a specific month on each of them because I don’t think that’s responsible or the right thing to do with with goals that are so complicated, where many of the forces that will impact our ability to hit them are out of my control as well”.

Pressed by reporters on a more specific timeline for his pledge to stop the arrival of small boats on the south coast, he said that it was “ultimately the country will judge”.

“The country will be the judge of whether we as a Government are straining every sinew to focus on their priorities and deliver meaningful progress and change on them.”

Labour hit out at the Government, as it said that “successive Tory prime ministers have repeatedly promised to stop the boats.

“Instead, their new laws have made the problem worse and the boats are at a record high”.

Government policy, as well as the language used Home Secretary Suella Braverman to describe migrants, has repeatedly drawn criticism.

Others have questioned the feasibility of the kind of pledge made by Mr Sunak.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The way to stop small boat crossings is to create safe routes, such as that set up for Ukrainian refugees, for those fleeing war and persecution.

“The Prime Minister’s proposal to remove anyone who arrives in the UK on a small boat will in fact simply leave thousands of men, women and children in limbo.”

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