- Rishi Sunak will soon become the new Prime Minister of the UK.
- His family’s wealth stands at an estimated $825 million, making him one of the richest people in Britain.
- Sunak has come under fire for tax and visa scandals in the past.
Rishi Sunak is set to become Britain’s newest prime minister, succeeding Liz Truss after her shockingly short and chaotic time in office.
Truss’s tax cut and subsequent policy U-turns during his brief six weeks in office spooked markets and plunged Britain into a financial crisis.
His aggressive tax cut plan, coupled with already high interest rates and falling energy prices around the world, has left many Britons with clear financial worries and a cost of living crisis.
The UK now has more food banks than McDonald’s, and many people are choosing between eating out and heating their homes, as Insider’s Bethany Dawson reported. The Guardian reported in August that nearly a quarter of the country plans not to turn on the heating this winter.
On Monday October 24, Sunak secured the backing of his Conservative Party to become its leader, thus becoming the presumptive Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
As a former Finance Minister, Sunak’s understanding of fiscal policy may be welcomed by a country facing immense financial difficulties.
However, Sunak also faces strong criticism for his family’s extraordinary wealth. With a net worth that is more than double that of King Charles III, many fear Sunak may not understand the daily financial struggles his constituents face, especially as Britain braces to face a deep recession.
Political research consultancy Savanta ComRes summed up public sentiment in a tweeted word cloud on Monday, based on the most common responses given to the survey question, “How would you describe Rishi Sunak in one word?”
“Smart”, “good” and “fine” stood out, but were overshadowed by one word: “Rich”. At the time of publication, the survey methodology was not made public.
—SavantaComRes (@SavantaComRes) October 24, 2022
a privileged childhood
Sunak’s parents were born in colonial Africa: his father, Yashvir, in Kenya and his mother, Usha, in Tanzania. They met and married in the UK, where her father became a general practitioner and her mother ran a pharmacy. In a story for Tatler, a family friend described the couple as “passionately British”. Sunak was educated at Winchester College, a fee-paying school that, in 2022, cost between $38,500 and $52,000 a year to attend. In an interview with Sky News, he expressed his understanding of how beneficial attending Winchester was to his career: “I was very lucky to get that opportunity. It was really extraordinary, it definitely put my life on a different trajectory.”
Sunak became the headmaster of the distinguished boarding school before taking a path well trodden by British politicians, studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. There, he received a First, the highest award for a bachelor’s degree.
It was during a Fulbright scholarship to Stanford in 2006, where Sunak earned an MBA, that his future fortune first entered his life. It was there that he met Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Infosys billionaire Narayana Murthy. The couple married in 2009 in an extravagant two-day wedding in Bangalore. Together, the couple’s wealth is estimated at $825 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, more than double the estimated $340 million wealth of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort.
It’s a syndicate that made Sunak the first top British politician to make The Sunday Times’ annual wealth list.
After becoming the Conservative Party MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire in 2015, he was soon seen as a rising star and became Boris Johnson’s chancellor between 2020 and 2022.
In that role, he oversaw various fiscal stimulus measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a lifeline of nearly $420 billion in loan guarantees for affected businesses. But after Johnson was embroiled in numerous scandals, Sunak resigned and entered the race for the top job himself.
clumsy displays of wealth
In the ensuing leadership election, which Liz Truss ultimately won, Sunak emphasized her parents’ humble beginnings, emphasizing how much they had “sacrificed” to give her an expensive education.
But despite his attempts to portray a realistic image, the British public has been repeatedly reminded that Sunak has a very different experience with money than most people.
In August, a video clip of Sunak holding his contactless debit card in front of the barcode scanner, rather than tapping it on the payment device, went viral, giving the impression that he rarely buys things in person. He later confessed that someone had to teach him how to use the card reader. In another clip resurfaced from a 2007 BBC interview, Sunak suggested that he had “no working class friends”.
—LondonWorld (@LondonWorldCom) March 24, 2022
He’s also been criticized for his overt displays of wealth, including ostentatious purchases like a $200 self-heating “smart” coffee mug and $500 Prada loafers. (“Values are what’s important, what I’m wearing is irrelevant to all of that.” Sunak told The Guardian about his extravagant purchases.)
Sunak’s wealth, however, has provided more than just a bizarre and embarrassing photo shoot.
Tax and visa scandals
In November 2020, The Guardian reported that Sunak had failed to mention his wife’s enormous wealth in the ministers’ register of interests. While ministers are supposed to declare anything that might represent a conflict of interest, a subsequent investigation found that he had not breached UK ministerial code.
Earlier this year, Sunak’s wife, Murthy, was also embroiled in a tax scandal after it emerged that she had “non-domiciled” status in the UK, allowing her to avoid paying British tax on income it earned abroad, mainly from Murthy’s stake in India-based Infosys. Murthy is also a director of her father’s venture capital firm, Catamaran Ventures, and has shares in several other companies.
Around the same time, Sunak faced scrutiny for having a US green card while chancellor, even though his primary residence was not in the US, raising questions about whether he enjoyed tax benefits as a result. He relinquished his green card in October 2021, according to his spokeswoman.
It is not yet clear if the wealth of Sunak and his family will prove to be an issue. His supporters, including British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, argue that Sunak’s experience in finance and treasury makes him the right man for the job.
“To restore stability and confidence, we need a leader who can be trusted to make tough decisions,” Hunt, who will seek to retain his post as chancellor, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “We also need someone who can explain those options to members of the public who are concerned about jobs, mortgages and public service. We have a leader who can do just that in Rishi Sunak.”