5 Urgent Matters The Tory Leadership Contenders Need To Focus On, But Aren’t

Either Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will be in No.10 as the UK’s prime minister in less than a month.

But, they are both avoiding some crucial matters which need the government’s focus right now.

With Boris Johnson, the outgoing prime minister, on holiday for the second time in two weeks and reportedly already moving out of Downing Street, it’s up to his replacement to come up with new policies to get the UK up and running again.

But, Sunak – who was chancellor until early July – and Truss, the current foreign secretary, both seem to be avoiding some of the stickier subjects.

Here’s just a few of the looming crises the government needs to face.

1. Cost of living

Terrifying forecasts have unveiled a bleak picture for most UK households come October – unless the government steps in.

With inflation at a 40-year-high of 9.4% and set to peak at 11% later this year, wages have plummeted at a record pace.

This makes it even harder for Brits to keep up with the energy payments, even though annual costs could shoot up to £3,582 for the average household come October. Meanwhile, other everyday costs – from groceries to petrol – are climbing to stay in line with general inflation.

So far, only Labour has come up with a fully-costed proposal to ease the financial burden of energy bills in particular, suggesting a freeze on the energy price cap so annual costs do not go above the current level of £1,971.

The two leadership hopefuls have come up with some answers when pressed over how to deal with this current crisis, but both have been criticised for not presenting long-term solutions.

Truss ruled out giving “handouts” to the most vulnerable, before a quick U-turn, and has been keen to emphasise she would cut taxes.

She has promised to reverse the increase to national insurance contributions and temporarily suspend green levies for energy bills to ease the crisis.

Sunak did unveil a series of measures to ease the cost of living earlier this year, including a £400 energy rebate, a £150 council tax rebate and a £650 lump sum benefit payment. He has also suggested he would expand existing cost of living schemes.

Despite promising not to cut taxes, he has said he would remove 5% VAT on household energy bills for 12 months from October.

But, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said, this package is less than half of the amount vulnerable families need to survive this winter.

2. Climate crisis

The heatwave in July saw temperatures reach a record-breaking 40.3C. Then, another, longer albeit cooler, heatwave followed in August, as temperatures climbed into the mid-30Cs again.

Johnson chose not to sit in on these emergency Cobra meetings about how to handle the heatwave, despite the disruption it caused to the nation and the threat it posed to many vulnerable people.

The subsequent drought, and the floods which are now forecast to hit the UK, show further problems which need to be addressed urgently by the government.

The UK’s water infrastructure needs urgent attention if the country is to adapt to climate change, but many assets have been privatised, making it much harder to run or organise in times of crisis.

Both candidates have promised to commit to the net-zero target, but concerns about the environment have not been near the top of their priorities – despite being one of Johnson’s most popular policies.

Sunak wants wind energy to be in the UK strategy, but says he would focus on building turbines offshore and calls for reducing energy usage.

Sunak’s extended windfall tax also allows electricity generators to avoid investing in green energy, and instead pay shareholder dividends – even as the oil and energy giants report staggering profits.

Both he and Truss drew criticism during their BBC debate for saying recycling should be a priority, but also championed new technology.

Truss has focused more on reducing waste, particularly food waste.

But, speaking to The Independent, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said “the lack of tangible commitments to deliver on this meant we can’t be sure they will actually take it seriously”.

Fires breaking out in Sheffield in July due to the heatwave

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

3. NHS collapse

The NHS is also on its last legs, and bosses have accused both Truss and Sunak of having no long-term solutions up their sleeves.

The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital trusts, claimed the pair did not understand the scale of the problems the NHS is facing, including chronic staff shortages, “crumbling” infrastructure and struggling social care.

In a letter, the Confederation said: “To truly level with the public they [Truss and Sunak] must acknowledge that this means crumbling buildings and ill-equipped outdated estate, 105,000 NHS staff and 165,000 social care vacancies at the last count, and a social care system in desperate need of repair and very far from being fixed as the current prime minister would have us believe.”

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt also said the NHS was “absent” from the leadership contest, even though the winter months are known to add further strain to the service.

So far, Sunak has suggested a “vaccines-style” task force to take on NHS backlogs, and said dealing with it was a top priority for him.

He floated the ida of a £10 fine for missed GP appointments too, and planned to introduce specialist surgical centres and community diagnostics hubs to remove one-year NHS waiting times six months earlier than planned.

Truss has agreed that there is an urgent requirement to deal with the backlogs – and suggested hiring a “strong” health secretary would sort this issue. She said she is dedicated to current government vows for NHS spending too – even though she wants to reverse the National Insurance Contributions increase, which was seen as a levy to alleviate the backlog.

4. Industrial action

The rail strikes are causing further chaos across the country – and it doesn’t look like they will be resolved without government intervention.

Employees are calling for their wages to be increased in line with inflation after years of stagnant salaries, but employers are resisting.

It was the worst year on record for train cancellations, according to analysis from the PA news agency, with 3.6% of trains cancelled in the 12 months leading up to July.

While the rain network has taken most of the news headlines over industrial action, other industries are now considering it too, including barristers, postal service workers, schools, hospital workers, airports, telecoms, ports, publishing, emergency services and bins.

This summer of discontent, as it has been dubbed, is likely to turn into a winter of discontent without immediate action.

Rather than listening to employees’ concerns, Sunak and Truss have instead said they would reduce rights for workers to take strike action – despite the threat that could have on civil rights.

Truss also wants to go even further, and legislate a minimum service a company has to operate during transport strikes.

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