Sunak promises to tackle inflation and NHS waiting lists in major speech

In the biggest speech of his premiership thus far, Rishi Sunak spelled out his plan for getting the UK on track

The prime minister made five promises, saying: "We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats."

Another of the prime minister's ambitions is to ensure all pupils in England study some form of maths until aged 18.

Taking questions from reporters, Mr Sunak said that he had intentionally decided not to set out specific timeframes for his five pledges, given their "complicated" nature.

Meanwhile, Labour accused him of being a "do-nothing" prime minister who's unable to "take the big decisions to put the country first".

The prime minister's speech came as the NHS strains under intense pressure and cares for more patients than ever before.

Watch Rishi Sunak's speech in full


Mr Sunak said people are "understandably anxious" when faced with recent media reports of ambulances queuing up outside hospitals due to a lack of capacity.

He said he hopes to relieve pressures on the NHS by increasing the number of hospital beds and introducing funding to discharge more patients into community social care, thus freeing up beds.

The government has blamed high numbers of flu cases, Covid-19 and Strep A fears for the particular pressures the NHS faced over Christmas, even as health leaders have warned that the problems are longstanding and cannot solely be pinned on the pandemic.

In many hospitals patients lie on trollies in hallways waiting to be seen, Health Editor Emily Morgan reports


Mr Sunak also highlighted that the UK is among the few countries in the world that don't require children to study some form of maths until the age of 18.

"Right now, just half of all 16 to 19-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before," he said.

However, the PM's plans to improve numeracy would not mean a compulsory maths A Level for everyone, he said.

Maths teacher William Allen said Mr Sunak’s plan shows "how out of touch this government really is".

"Extending the numeracy studies to 18 misses the problems underpinning numeracy skills, which is that our curriculum is not catered towards numeracy," he said.

David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, said the fact the prime minister did not include education as one of his five key priorities in 2023 was "very disappointing".

"While there is a good case for more maths education in sixth forms and colleges, it will take many years to recruit the necessary teachers," Mr Laws added.


The UK has been hit by a wave of industrial action across several sectors - in only the last 48 hours the railways have been crippled by walkouts.

Mr Sunak called for a "reasonable dialogue" with the unions, as he promised an update on the government’s next steps.

He said: "We hugely value public sector workers like nurses. They do incredibly important work and that’s why we want a reasonable dialogue with the unions about what’s responsible and fair for our country."

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The government will pass new laws to "stop small boats" arriving on the UK's shores, the PM said.

He was later asked if this pledge means there will be no small boat crossings by the time of the next election, or that there will just be fewer small boat crossings.

"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," he said.

"Now, when I made a statement in Parliament last month about small boats, you know I went out of my way to say this is not an easy problem to fix, and it’s not one that we can fix overnight and it requires lots of different things to be changed."

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, criticised the PM's plan. He said removing people who arrive on small boats while not providing safe routes for asylum seekers would leave thousands "in limbo".


During the prime minister’s speech, he touched on the need to reduce crime and crack down on "career criminals".

Mr Sunak pledged to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers and also addressed the importance of preventing violence against women and girls.

He said: "Let’s be frank - that means men taking responsibility for creating a culture and society where women are safe in their communities and at home."

Levelling up

Mr Sunak said he wanted to continue with the levelling-up project but that it must also involve "reinforcing people’s pride in the places they call home".

To achieve this change, the government will increase investment in local areas, create jobs and "reinvigorate our high streets and town centres", Mr Sunak pledged.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the public could be left asking "is that it?" after hearing the prime minister’s vision for the country.

The senior opposition figure said: "This do-nothing prime minister is too weak to stand up to his party or vested interests.

"That means that from housing and planning laws to closing tax avoidance loopholes, he can’t take the big decisions to put the country first."