Rishi Sunak’s five pledges: From inflation to migration, has the prime minister met his targets?

Rishi Sunak’s five pledges: From inflation to migration, has the prime minister met his targets?

Rishi Sunak pledged that “more will change in the next five years than in the last 30” in a pre-election speech to voters on Monday, placing heavy emphasis on defence and security commitments.

It was the latest relaunch in a series of attempts to rebrand the Conservative party and Mr Sunak’s premiership, after multiple cabinet reshuffles in the past year and a stunning loss of seats in the local elections.

This isn’t the first time that Mr Sunak has promised change to voters. In January 2023, Mr Sunak addressed the public in a major speech, making five ambitious pledges for the year including economic measures, reducing NHS waiting lists and efforts to “stop the boats”.

“People don’t want politicians who promise the earth and then fail to deliver,” said Sunak.

The PM outlined these targets in the midst of record-high inflation rates, huge strains on the public health service, and mass increases in English Channel crossings, pledging:

“We will either have achieved them or not. No tricks, no ambiguity: we’re either delivering for you or we’re not.”

But how many promises were actually delivered by the end of 2023, and which have failed to meet the mark?

While the PM met certain targets - such as slashing inflation - but continues to miss key healthcare goals, Mr Sunak’s approval ratings have only worsened over 2023, according to YouGov.

Let’s see how the PM is addressing key targets for the economy, NHS, and migration.

1. Halve inflation

The PM first pledged to halve inflation in a bid to ease the cost of living crisis and “give people financial security”.

The commitment to halve inflation in 2023 was successful. However, the cost of living is still being felt by many Brits.

With a benchmark of around 5.4 per cent (half of 10.7 per cent at the end of 2022), inflation settled comfortably below this number, ending at 4.0 per cent in December 2023, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

While inflation has been reduced, other key factors which contribute to the cost of living are slower to improve. The inflation rate for food and beverages is still at 7 per cent, according to ONS data, while private rental prices have continued to soar at 9 per cent higher from February 2023 to 2024.

Nonetheless, inflation has continued to slowly shrink this year, with latest data at 3.2 per cent in March. This is still above the current Bank of England target of 2 per cent.

Linear progress is not guaranteed; inflation went up from 3.9 per cent to 4 per cent from November to December, and stayed stagnant at 4 per cent in January this year.

2. Grow the economy

While Mr Sunak’s promise to “grow the economy” is intentionally vague in terms of its targets, by many standards, economic growth has not been substantially achieved.

According to ONS data, the UK economy was stagnant or shrank for most of 2023, ending at a minor recession of -0.3 per cent in the final quarter of the year.

Although 2024 looks more positive so far, at 0.6 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in Q1, this minute uptick in growth can hardly be considered a marker of  substantial economic growth.

3. Reduce debt

Mr Sunak promised to “make sure our national debt is falling”. In real terms, UK debt has not fallen and in fact continues to accumulate.

The UK’s debt pile has reached £2.7 trillion, up by nearly £200 billion from January 2023. As a proportion of GDP, debt has also continued to rise, exceeding the total GDP at 101.3 per cent.

Debt within 2023 alone exceeded the £114.1 billion prediction from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), reaching £120.7 billion for the year.

Yet the government specifically pledged to reduce forecasted debt in the next five years (2028-29), meaning that this possibility is still on the cards.

Treasurer Jeremy Hunt maintains that a debt reduction in 2028-29 is on track since the OBR has forecasted a fall in 2028-29, but this estimate is subject to change.

4. Cut waiting lists

Despite promising that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly’”, Mr Sunak has failed by his own admission, according to an interview on TalkTV in February 2024.

NHS data shows that the number of patients waiting for non-emergency treatment is at 7.54m as of March 2024, around 300,000 (4.5 per cent) higher than when Sunak pledged to cut waits in January 2023.

Around a third (29 per cent) of these cases have been waiting for more than six months, and children’s waiting times have been even slower to improve.

However, the health services have also faced a tumultuous string of strikes during this period which impact waiting times, as NHS consultants rejected government pay offers in January.

While the wait list remained unchanged from February, the figure has been bouncing up and down for the past few months, after a record-high 7.77m backlog for treatments in September 2023.

5. ‘Stop the boats’

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

Since then, he has doubled down on his pledge to tackle illegal migration, passing the Illegal Migration Bill in July 2023.

Amidst a heated parliamentary back-and-forth between the Commons and the Lords, the UK has designated Rwanda as a safe destination for deporting illegal migrants, though the contentious plan will likely continue to face challenges.

But has he managed to stop the boats? In 2023, there were less small boat crossings across the English Channel than in 2022, down by over a third to 29,437 – but the reasons for the drop are not clear-cut.

A Met Office report prepared for the Border Force and later made public following an Freedom of Information request suggested bad weather may have played a part in the lower number of migrant crossings. It is unclear exactly to what extent government policy has acted as a deterrent.

Some 7,567 people were detected crossing the English Channel from January to April 2024, a new record for the first four months of a calendar year.

The total is 27 per cent higher than the number of arrivals in the first four months of 2023, which was 5,946, and 13 per cent higher than the number in the first four months of 2022, which was 6,691.