Skip to main content

Did Rishi overpromise on his five pledges for health, the economy and immigration?

Rishi Sunak
04 July 2023
Public Affairs

Delivering on "the people's priorities" with "no tricks, no ambiguity" – that was Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's pledge back in January when he outlined his commitment to work tirelessly to fulfil his priorities for 2023. 

These priorities included "five pledges to deliver peace of mind" and "five foundations on which to build a better future for our children and grandchildren." These pledges were to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut hospital waiting lists, and stop migrant crossings. 

However, six months later, and unfortunately for Sunak, there is still work to be done. Today, the Prime Minister faced the Commons' Liaison Committee, where he faced pressure to demonstrate the advancements made on each of the pledges. However, when examining the progress made, the Prime Minister struggled somewhat to justify significant achievements. 

According to the committee's findings, Sunak's first commitment to halve inflation is yet to be accomplished. Although the overall inflation rate has stabilised and is projected to decrease by 2 percent by the end of the year, it has not been halved as Sunak had hoped. It currently stands at around 8.7 percent, which remains a challenge for millions of people grappling with the rising cost of living. Additionally, many consumer products continue to experience higher price increases than the headline Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate, with food inflation at 18.4 percent, despite a 0.7 percent decrease in the last month. Moreover, the current inflation rate is more than four times the Bank of England's target, raising concerns about declining real wages for workers. Last month, the Bank of England's decision to raise interest rates to 5% further complicates the situation. 

Regarding Sunak's second commitment to "grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunities across the country," inflation has adversely affected real pay, which continues to stagnate. Recent estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that real average weekly earnings have dropped from 108.3 to 104.3. Likewise, his third pledge to curb national debt has stumbled in the face of inflation, with the UK's debt pile reaching over 100% of economic output for the first time since 1961 due to a doubling of government borrowing in May. 

Concerning Sunak's fourth pledge to reduce NHS waiting lists, it remains unclear how the NHS can effectively address the backlog of treatments. The current pressures on the NHS, exacerbated by the backlog of non-urgent treatments from the pandemic and strikes by healthcare workers, have led to over 7.2 million people still waiting for treatment. The NHS aims to treat 92 percent of patients within 18 weeks, a goal consistently met between 2010 and 2018. However, as of the end of 2022, only 58 percent of patients have been treated within the 18-week timeframe. Sunak has introduced a plan to recruit and retain NHS workers, which could result in an additional 60,000 doctors, 170,000 nurses, and 71,000 health staff by 2037. While this plan is ambitious, its impact on the next election, and the voters' perception of its benefits, is uncertain. 

Finally, Sunak has also struggled to fulfil his fifth pledge to stop small boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers across the Channel. In June, he claimed that his plan was "starting to work," but recent figures reveal that 3,824 asylum seekers have made these crossings. Furthermore, Sunak's proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was deemed unlawful following a Court of Appeal ruling that highlighted deficiencies in the asylum process and the risk of persecution or inhumane treatment. The government has also suffered a number of defeats in the House of Lords over its Illegal Migration Bill and the scheme's high cost has added to the controversy. Sunak has confirmed that the government will appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court, though when questioned by Diana Johnson at today’s Liaison committee, he evaded the question on how he would personally respond if the appeal was lost.  

Upon reflection from today's hearing, alongside recent events, it appears that Sunak is still struggling to gain the full support of his party colleagues. Discussions among the ‘New Conservatives’ have already started about implementing a stricter 12-point plan to significantly reduce immigration, with Deputy Prime Minister Lee Anderson even hoping to block foreign social care workers from obtaining visas, despite existing job vacancies. Whether this challenge will lead to a split within the party remains to be seen. According to Conservative Home’s latest survey, Sunak's support stands at -2.7 percent, down from 21 percent positive backing in May. This represents the lowest level of grassroots support since he became Prime Minister. Furthermore, the polls consistently show that the Conservatives are trailing behind Labour by at least eight points. 

What this all means for Labour, of course, is another matter that will need to be carefully considered in the coming weeks. However, Sunak's shortcomings in meeting his own commitments over the past six months, coupled with the declining unity within the Conservative party, provide Labour with a reason to be optimistic ahead of the next election.