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Conservative part conference: What Chancellor Rishi Sunak's announcement means for Kent

After Labour left Brighton, the political conference merry-go round has stopped at Manchester for the Conservative party.

It got into its stride today with speeches by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the levelling up champion Michael Gove. Political editor Paul Francis reports.

Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The purpose of the political conference season is to reassure party activists that all is well and there is nothing but exciting times ahead. Beyond the conference hall, they are used to demonstrate that the party is either running the country well or would do much better than the one that’s in charge.

For the Conservatives, the conference is taking place at a time when events have conspired in a way that has produced a turbulent political backdrop and unwelcome headlines of a Winter of Discontent.

Fuel supply shortages; empty supermarket shelves; rising energy prices; the end of the Universal Credit uplift; a new tax on National Insurance to pay for social care: the party could rarely have met for its conference in such tricky times.

It was down to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to get the conference underway and he endeavored to strike an optimistic note despite the gloomy political backdrop.

Here's what some of his key announcements mean for people in Kent:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauds as Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaks at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauds as Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaks at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

Universal credit - no going back:

The plan to cut the £20 increase to universal credit won’t be reversed but tackling the cost of living was one of the government’s central missions.

Propping up families with more state aid was not the solution. The Chancellor said: “Is the answer to their hopes and dreams just to increase their benefits? Is the answer to tell families that the economic system is rigged against you and the only chance you have is to lean ever more heavily on the state? That is the essence of the Labour Party.”

The government’s approach was based on “good work, better skills and higher wages... an approach that says yes we believe you and we will help you and you will succeed.”

In practical terms, there will also be a one-off £500m emergency fund to help those facing financial hardship - set against the much higher costs of the additional £20 uplift to universal credit.

According to the latest official figures, 156,233 people were on Universal Credit in July 2021 in Kent and Medway, an increase of 94.5% (+75,909) since March 2020.

The figures show 13.8% of people in Kent & Medway were claiming Universal Credit in July 2021, compared to 14.6% nationally.

There appears to be a decline in new claims for the benefit among 25-34-year-olds, with 952 in July 2021 - some 31% lower than March 2020.

Brexit would improve the UK’s fortunes - eventually :

“I was proud to back Brexit, proud to back leave, because despite the challenges I believe that in the long term the agility, flexibility and freedom provided by Brexit would be more valuable in the long term in the 21st global economy than just proximity to a market.”

In the long term, Brexit would bring “a renewed culture of enterprise, willingness to take risks and be imaginative would inspire changes in the way we do things at home.”

More tax increases could be necessary: “Anyone who tells you that you can borrow more today and tomorrow will simply sort itself out just doesn’t care about the future. Yes, I want tax cuts. But in order to do that …... our public finances must be put back on a sustainable footing.”

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