But, both of them dodged some crucial matters which need the government’s focus right now.
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.
This makes it even harder for Brits to keep up with the energy payments, even though annual costs will shoot up to £3,549 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.
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 did vow that within the first week she would unveil significant help for energy bills, in a large scheme which could be the same size as the furlough programme from the Covid pandemic.
She has promised to reverse the increase to national insurance contributions and temporarily suspend green levies for energy bills to ease the crisis.
The anti-poverty charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is just one of many voices pointing out that the government’s cost of living package from May 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.
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.
Truss has promised to commit to the net-zero target, but concerns about the environment have not been near the top of her priorities – despite being one of Johnson’s most popular policies.
Her opponent, Sunak, wanted wind energy to be in the UK strategy, but said he would focus on building turbines offshore and calls for reducing energy usage.
Truss, who has criticised wind power, drew criticism from her BBC debate with Sunak for saying recycling should be a priority, while also championing new technology, and reducing waste, particularly food waste.
But, speaking to The Independent, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said both Truss and Sunak had missed the crux of the issue throughout their campaigns. She said: “The lack of tangible commitments to deliver on this meant we can’t be sure they will actually take it seriously.”
3. NHS collapse
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 from August, 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.
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, both Sunak and Truss 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.
5. Levelling up?
This core policy at the centre of Johnson’s time in government promised to reduce economic disparity across the country. However, it hasn’t really taken off.
The attainment gap between poor pupils and their wealthier peers has not improved at all over the past 20 years, according to a new report from the Nuffield Foundation.
The report found that the pandemic had also “significantly worsened overall outcomes as well as widening inequalities”.
As report author Imran Tahir said: “If the government is to meet its mission to have 90% of pupils attaining the expected level at the end of primary school, it needs to prioritise the education system and especially the disadvantaged pupils within it.”
Truss landed in a lot of hot water after she temporarily proposed a policy which would see public sector workers outside of London (and the South East) paid less. While she dropped the suggestion, it seemed to be a direct step away from the levelling up agenda Johnson was so keen to prioritise.