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Three big challenges facing the government this week

Life is never easy at the top. Even though last week was not supposed to be a particularly difficult one for Rishi Sunak, the PM faced condemnation on a range of fronts. There was the tasteless £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan on Rwanda deportation flights, which was described as “depraved”. A failure to reduce NHS waiting lists also sparked ire. And there was fury over his trans jibe comments, which N0.10 has repeatedly refused to apologise for. One insider told i that Mr Sunak’s gaffes last week will “fuel what voters already think and have done for months”, that “the Tories are done”. They added: “They’re rats in a sack on a slowly sinking ship”. Now this week, Mr Sunak is facing another round of serious challenges, including some that could really threaten his leadership. We’ll take a look at what they are, after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

More than a third of doctors and three in 10 nurses in England are foreign nationals as health officials warned overseas recruits could not fill vacancies forever. The proportion of NHS roles in England filled by non-UK nationals has jumped sharply and now stands at an estimated one in five of the workforce, the first time this milestone has been reached, according to new analysis.

Children in care are facing a postcode lottery when it comes to adequate support in helping them reunite with their families, children’s campaigners have warned. More youngsters in the care system could return to their families with better support, new research has revealed. The NSPCC and Action for Children are calling on the Government to develop national guidance and invest in support services.

Jeremy Hunt is expected to axe funding for a flagship tutoring scheme introduced to help disadvantaged pupils catch up on lost learning in the wake of the Covid pandemic, i can reveal. Funding for the National Tutoring Programme, which was a central pillar of the government’s Covid school catchup plan, is due to expire in the summer and i has been told that the Chancellor is not expected to provide additional cash in his forthcoming Budget.

Brianna Ghey’s mother paid tribute to her daughter during an emotional speech at a vigil in her hometown held to mark a year since her death. Hundreds of mourners gathered at a shopping Centre in Warrington on Sunday to pay their respects to 16-year-old Brianna, who was murdered by teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe in a park in the town.

A major international energy security summit due to be hosted by the UK – designed to protect consumers from spikes in bills – has been delayed by a year, i can reveal. The first-ever London Energy Security Conference was announced by then energy secretary Grant Shapps last summer, with the date set for spring this year.

Council homes are increasingly being rented out as holiday lets, fuelling a surge in fraud that is costing taxpayers £6.2bn, i can reveal. Fraud investigators and local authorities said Airbnb, and other popular platforms are doing too little to block illegal adverts of social homes.

Three things that could hit government this week:

Inflation figures: On Wednesday, experts are predicting that Britain’s rate of inflation will rise again, delivering not only a blow to the public, but also to the government after Rishi Sunak vowed to curb price rises. Capital Economics and Deutsche Bank Research both expect the figure to be 4.1 per cent – more than double the Bank of England target of 2 per cent. Sanjay Raja of Deutsche Bank said energy prices were partly behind the expected rise. Ofgem’s price cap, which sets the maximum most households can be charged per unit of energy, ticked up in January, and he said this would “result in a 5.1 per cent (average) boost to dual fuel bills”. Read that full story here. Laura Trott, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told the Sunday Times: “There will be bumps in the road and on Wednesday we can expect inflation to slightly increase when data for January is published.”

A possible recession: On Thursday, the ONS will publish its first estimate for GDP growth in the final quarter of 2023. The economy shrank by 0.1 per cent between July and September – so if there was a second consecutive quarter of negative growth, the UK will technically be in recession. That news could impact the upcoming Budget, where Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has hinted at the idea of further tax cuts. A Treasury source told i: “We need to make people aware that inflation may tick up this week, and we’ve also got GDP figures which could show there’s been a recession.” As Hugo Gye writes: The Prime Minister and Chancellor have both suggested they want to reduce taxes again at the Budget on 6 March, but it is unclear whether they will be able to enact significant cuts without risking their fiscal rules which determine how much the government can borrow over a five-year timeframe. Mr Hunt’s headroom – the difference between current borrowing forecast and the maximum allowed under the rules – is understood to be only slightly higher than the £13bn recorded at the Autumn Statement three months ago. Read the full story here.

By-elections: Rishi Sunak’s party also faces two by-elections this week – in the two formerly safe seats of Wellingborough and Kingswood – on Thursday. If they lose both, it would set a post-war record for the most Conservative by-election defeats in a single parliament, with a net loss of nine seats, Sky’s Matthew Thompson noted. Backers of Mr Sunak are concerned that a double defeat could lead to further questions about his position. One supportive ex-minister told i: “I expect there will be more attempts at destabilisation, which will damage everybody and be derided by the vast majority.” On top of that, right-wing rebels are said to be discussing who could replace the PM – with an unlikely plan for David Cameron to “come back as a unity candidate” floated by some plotters, according to one MP. Read more here.

Around the world

Israel’s military says it had rescued two hostages from captivity in Gaza’s southern border city of Rafah, where it conducted a series of strikes which have reportedly killed dozens of people. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have fled to Rafah, where they are packed into sprawling tent camps and UN-run shelters.

Nato has hit back at comments made by Donald Trump at a campaign event – claiming they “put American and European soldiers at increased risk”. Mr Trump has revealed he once told an ally he would “encourage” Russia to attack any Nato member that fails to pay enough into the military alliance.

Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder, has been killed alongside his coach in a road accident in Kenya. The 24-year-old set a new world record of two hours and 35 seconds at the Chicago Marathon in October last year, and won the London Marathon in April 2023.

The circulation of the Atlantic Ocean is heading towards a tipping point that is “bad news for the climate system and humanity”, a study has found. The scientists behind the research said they were shocked at the forecast speed of collapse once the point is reached, although they said it was not yet possible to predict how soon that would happen.

The Kansas City Chiefs have become back-to-back Super Bowl winners for the first time in 20 years with a 25-22 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas. Alicia Keys, Lil John and Ludacris joined Usher during the half-time performance, while Taylor Swift was among celebrities including Blake Lively, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Jay Z watching from the stands.

Watch out for…

 more pressure for Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer to back a ceasefire in Gaza. SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has written to the PM and Labour leader on the issue amid mounting concern over a planned Israeli ground invasion of Rafah. 

 Thoughts for the day

How Camilla became King Charles’s secret weapon. The woman once regarded as a liability to Charles’s rise to the throne will be in the driving seat, explains Anne McElvoy.

Gregg Wallace’s blunder is a lesson for us all. Why do we so feel the need to overshare, asks Stefano Hatfield.

The notoriously sexy French have stopped having sex, God help us all. One in four French aren’t having sex, writes Tatty Macleod.

We are no longer shackled by constricting gender ideals (Photo: Image Source/Getty)

Culture Break

Bagpuss at 50: The show that revolutionised children’s TV. Instead of cheerful ‘Play School’ reassurance, ‘Bagpuss’ offered a curious unease, stories with no obvious moral postscript, music played on uncommon instruments, writes Julia Raeside.

The first episode of ‘Bagpuss’ aired on the BBC in February 1974 (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty)

The Big Read

Jealous of a friend’s life? You can use that feeling to make yourself happier. Kasia Delgado speaks to experts about using the green-eyed monster to your advantage.

Rising mortgage rates, average house prices at almost 10 times the average salary and rents at an all-time high are leaving people feeling inadequate and stressed (Illustration: i)


From boos to standing ovation – how Arsenal’s new star won over West Ham fans. Declan Rice enjoyed a starring role in Arsenal’s 6-0 win and showed he’s taken his game to a new level since leaving the London Stadium, writes Oliver Young-Myles.

Rice enjoyed a spectacular return to the London Stadium (Photo: PA)

Something to brighten your day

The Danish way of parenting: What I’ve learnt raising my children in Denmark. Nine years into the embracing the Nordic approach to parenting, a British mother of three shares some Danish secrets.

Helen Russell with her children in Denmark

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