Politics

Rishi Sunak sparks hunt for world's tiniest violin after saying he went without Sky TV as a child

Sunak should remember that an estimated 14.2 million people live in poverty in the UK, with an additional 1 million just £10 per week away from the breadline

Rishi Sunak works at his desk

Rishi Sunak. Image credit: HM Treasury/Flickr

Rishi Sunak has claimed that he went without “lots of things” as a child – including Sky TV.

The comments – slammed by campaigners as “out of touch” – have prompted a nationwide search for the country’s tiniest violin.

In an interview with ITV news airing on Wednesday (12 June), Sunak said his parents made sacrifices to afford his education at the fee-paying private school Winchester College.

“My family emigrated here with very little. And that’s how I was raised. I was raised with the values of hard work,” he said, adding that “lots of things” had to be sacrificed.

Pushed to provide an example, he said: “All sorts of things like lots of people. There’ll be all sorts of things that I would’ve wanted as a kid that I couldn’t have. Famously, Sky TV, so that was something that we never had growing up actually.”

The comments betray an insensitivity to the ongoing cost of living crisis, said Anna McShane, director of the left-leaning New Britain Project think tank.

“Rishi Sunak’s admission that the most he went without as a child was Sky TV sums up how out of touch he is with everyday families,” she told the Big Issue.

“From focus groups we’ve run we know even families who before the cost of living could never imagine themselves struggling are not just forgoing little extras but are having to regularly skip meals, are not able to put the heating on and are exhausted with worry that one more bill hike will push them over the edge.”

An estimated 14.2 million people live in poverty in the UK, with an additional 1 million just £10 per week away from the breadline.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Earlier this month, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that seven million households across the country had gone without essentials, like showers, toiletries or adequate clothing, in the last six months – or had gone hungry, or cut or skipped meals in the last 30 days.

In this brutal reality, Sunak’s comments are particularly ill-advised, added McShane.

“I don’t know what he wanted to achieve in making that comment, but it certainly won’t make any families feeling the pressure feel sorry for him,” she said.

Viewers would respect Sunak more if he was upfront about his wealth, said Nick Turnbull, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester.

“Rhetoric in campaigns is all about the presentation of the personality, and modern campaigning is very much about individual personalities,” he said.

“Broadly, we want our leaders to be like us, but people do not respect inauthenticity. If Sunak was smarter, he would have said, ‘I had a very privileged upbringing. I was very lucky to be born in a family which was very privileged.’ Honesty is better.”

Coming across as “not real” is the “biggest sin” in politics, he added.

“Sunak went to an elite school, then to Oxford, he worked in finance, he’s very wealthy. Why would you try and argue something that you’re not? In politics, you have to play to your strengths. He’s clearly not very good at thinking about how to present himself.”

Plenty of children in modern Britain are being forced to ‘go without’ essentials like housing and food.

According to the Intergenerational Foundation (IF), one million children experienced homelessness across the United Kingdom in 2022 and there were 150,000 children living in temporary accommodation in 2023. Furthermore, 64% of households stuck in temporary accommodation were those with children.

“It is a grave intergenerational injustice that so many of our youngest generation have to experience homelessness in this day and age,” said Liz Emerson, IF co-founder.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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