It’s a New Year, and Britain begins it with renewed strength. With a lower deficit and enterprise flourishing, our economy is becoming more secure by the day. With our commitment to increase defence spending and invest in new jets, frigates and armoured vehicles, our brilliant Armed Forces are keeping our nation safe. And having spent the last five years bringing excellence to our schools and reforming welfare, we are extending new opportunities across our country.
For me, there are no New Year’s resolutions, just the resolve to continue delivering what we promised in our manifesto. The prospects are good. We go into this year with low inflation, rising employment and growth. The question is: what do we do with that? Our answer is: we make Britain greater by giving its people even greater security. So this April, the tax cuts we pledged will start to come into effect and the elderly will get the biggest increase in the state pension for over a decade. We’ll take steps towards 3 million apprenticeships, 500 new Free Schools, more free childcare, and record levels of funding for the NHS. And we’ll stand ready to prevent and respond to any threat that comes our way. As I saw for myself this week, the weather can have a devastating impact on homes, livelihoods and whole communities. Because of our competent management of the economy, we are not only able to fund the necessary flood defences, emergency services and support; we can actually be flexible about what we spend and where we spend it. So when we face unprecedented and unexpected flooding we are able to give help to families when they need it.
We also promised something else in our manifesto: giving the British people a say on our relationship with Europe. We’re fighting hard to fix the aspects of our EU membership that cause so much frustration in Britain – so we get a better deal for our country and secure our future. It is a difficult negotiation with 27 other countries. But throughout we are driven by one consideration: what is best for Britain’s economic and national security. In the end, you will decide whether we are stronger and better off with our European neighbours as part of the European Union, or on our own.
But as we deliver our manifesto, I want to go further, opening up new areas of social reform. I genuinely believe we are in the middle of one of the great reforming decades in our history – what I would call a “turnaround decade”, where we can use the platform of our renewed economic strength to go for real social renewal. So here are the things I want to get done.
One: home ownership. It is not just an economic outrage, but a moral one that hardworking young people are priced out of the housing market. With Right to Buy and Help to Buy, we have helped people onto the housing ladder. In the next five years, Britain needs to get building. We doubled the annual housing budget in the Spending Review; we will build 200,000 Starter Homes; and if local councils can’t get their act together and build the homes their areas need, we will intervene directly.
Two: poverty. We have taken great leaps in recent decades, but stubborn and persistent poverty still exists. So we need a more targeted strategy for those most in need of help, focusing on tackling the root causes like worklessness and family instability. And as we develop our Life Chances Strategy this spring, I want us to move further on addiction and mental health, especially in prison, and to rescue more children from being stuck in failing care systems. That’s why, in the next five years, our reforms to social services will be as radical as the reforms to our schools.
Three: social mobility. We live in a country where too many people are stopped from reaching their potential because of their background. Of course, education and training are crucial here. But discrimination, sadly, still exists in our country. So we’ll step up our effort to complete the fight for equality with, for example, more work to close the gender pay gap, with a new strategy set out in the New Year.
Four: extremism. This is one of the biggest issues facing our country. Of course, we need to tackle the hate preachers and take down the online material that radicalises so many. But we also need to address the issues that for too long have been swept under the carpet. Failure to integrate, the dangers of segregation and deprivation, women treated as second-class citizens, communities living side by side but never coming into contact with each other – these will all be issues that Louise Casey will address in her review for the Government later this year, and we will respond with vigour.
If we really get to grips with these problems this year, we won’t just be a richer nation, but a stronger, more unified, more secure one. It won’t be easy. These problems have been generations in the making. And many of them are tangled together. Just consider this. Right now, there are more young black men in prison than studying at our top universities. That scandal brings together so many of these problems I have spoken about: poor life chances that, though they never excuse a life of crime, often find people heading down that track; poor schooling, because that holds people back; discrimination, because there is even evidence to suggest that men from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to get a custodial sentence than white men; and extremism, which sometimes is even incubated in state institutions, such as prisons.
Facts like this show that our social problems aren’t just ingrained; they’re enmeshed with one another. So yes, we’re going to spend this year delivering the education, training, jobs, tax cuts, healthcare and housing people need. But we’re also going to make sure no-one should be on the outside looking in at all these things – that everyone is a part of Britain’s rise. In doing so, we can make 2016 a game changer for our country.
There are many people who will tell you how deeply they care about these issues. They will shout into megaphones, wave banners and sign petitions. But we’re the ones who are able to make the arguments and take the difficult decisions in order to defeat these social scourges and deliver real security. So while others are on protest march, we remain on the long walk to a Greater Britain. We won’t get there overnight. But during 2016, we will make some of our most significant strides yet.