The Conservative prime minister attempted to reset his premiership by pledging to deliver on five major “people’s priorities” during the current parliament.
He also promised to “stop the boats”, saying the Tories would pass new laws to thwart Channel crossings and ensure “that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
Under huge pressure to address the crisis engulfing the NHS, the PM also pledged to cut waiting lists so “people will get the care they need more quickly”.
Speaking in London, Mr Sunak said “We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats. Those are the people’s priorities. They are your government’s priorities. And we will either have achieved them or not.”
Urging the public to judge him on delivery of his new year promises, he added: “No tricks, no ambiguity – we’re either delivering for you or we’re not … So, I ask you to judge us on the effort that we put in, and the results we achieve.”
Amid warnings from senior doctors that the NHS is on a knife-edge, Mr Sunak claimed his administration was taking “urgent action” to solve the current waiting times – pointing to funding to discharge more people into social care.
“People are understandable anxious when they see ambulances queueing outside hospitals”, he conceded – saying the NHS was now working “urgently” on plans to help A&E and ambulance services.
The government has blamed flu, Covid and Strep A fears for the pressures the NHS faced over Christmas, but health leaders have warned that the problems are longstanding. “Covid has had an impact … [but] it’s not an excuse,” Mr Sunak said.
Mr Sunak claimed that he is open to holding conversations with nurses to avert further NHS strikes this month – but said union demands for a 19 per cent pay rises was not “affordable”.
Asked about the process for deciding public sector pay increases for next financial year, amid speculation it could be “fast-tracked”, Mr Sunak said: “We’ll be setting out more of plans in this regard in the coming days.”
On the economy, Mr Sunak said he expected to be able to half inflation and see GDP growth by the end of 2023. Inflation is already forecast to fall by more than half this year – falling to 3.8 per cent by the final quarter – by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
Despite Liz Truss’s disastrous dash for growth through tax cuts during her six weeks at No 10, Mr Sunak pledged to reduce tax on working people as soon as possible.
The prime minister said he would help more people back into work to boost productivity and growth, and he wanted to “do away” with the idea that some communities will “never get better”.
Rishi Sunak vows to halve inflation by end of year
But the PM would not set out specific timeframes for his other pledges. He did not answer directly when asked whether his “stop the boats” pledge would mean no more crossings or merely a mere reduction in the number of boats arriving on British shores.
“The country will be the judge of whether we as a government are straining every sinew,” he told reporters. He said new legislation should see people removed more swiftly, but admitted it would “not happen overnight”.
The PM also described moves to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda as an “important part” of his immigration plan, and said he wanted to deliver “functioning” returns agreements with Albania and other countries.
During the PM’s speech, he also said he wanted to see a crackdown on people who “gang together” and cause trouble in playgrounds as well as “career criminals”. But did not suggest there would be any new funding for the police.
“Antisocial behaviour isn’t inevitable or a minor crime … They spray graffiti on war memorials, discard needles and nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds, gang together and cause disorder and disruption,” he said.
“We’re got to reduce reoffending … and we’ve got to beat addiction. Because heroin and crack addicts account for almost half of all robberies,” the PM added.
The PM spoke about the importance of improving numeracy, as he promised to make it maths a more crucial part of the education system – but he said it would not mean compulsory A-level for maths for everyone.
Mr Sunak admitted much of the public were “looking ahead to 2023 with apprehension”, but vowed to work “night and day” to build a better future “that restores optimism, hope and pride in Britain”.