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Is Britain’s new PM the right person to deal with the cost-of-living crisis?

Emma Levin Senior Consultant 26/10/2022

Over the weekend, as Rishi Sunak was seeing off the challenges of Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt to win the hearts, minds and nominations of the 300 odd Conservative MPs who would eventually determine the next leader of the Conservative Party, Savanta ComRes asked the British public how they would describe the three contenders in one word.

For Rishi Sunak, the eventual winner, the most common answer was hardly a surprise. Rich.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2022, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty are the 222nd wealthiest people in the UK with an estimated wealth of £730m. How much this matters to his premiership is up for debate.

Many will point out that Sunak is following a well-worn path from an elite private school to No.10 via a PPE degree at Oxford. Others will say that as Britain’s wealthiest ever Prime Minister, Sunak will be faced with overseeing a cost of living crisis that he is too rich to understand.

Either way, a recent Savanta ComRes survey undertaken on behalf of the BBC, demonstrates just how difficult a challenge Sunak faces.

Between January and October, we have seen a 16 percentage point rise in the proportion of UK adults who tell us they now feel worried about their personal financial situation and the cost of living (up to 85%) and a 26 percentage point rise in the proportion of those who tell us they expect their financial situation to get worse in the next six months (up to 56%).

One in five (20%) told us they expect to use a ‘warm bank’ in a library, café or community space to save money on heating in the next six months or have to borrow money to pay for essentials (19%). Three in five (59%) mortgage holders say they expect it to be difficult to pay their housing costs, with this figure rising to two thirds (65%) among renters. More than a third (37%) of workers say they are worried about losing their jobs in this period.

This survey (which was conducted prior to Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that the help to limit energy bills rises for households would be cut back from two years to six months) found less than a quarter (23%) of UK adults say the support announced by the government so far is enough to help people with the rising cost of living.

During Rishi Sunak’s time Chancellor, he was known (perhaps against his own ideological instincts) and relatively popular for being someone who was prepared to spend government money during a national crisis. Many will now be looking to him as Prime Minister to provide that same level of support to help with the rising cost of living. However, the fiscal position he inherits has deteriorated significantly since he left No.11 in July, and he has been elected by a party who largely want to see less state intervention rather than more.

The 4 day leadership contest meant there was no opportunity for the public to hear how Sunak intends to handle this fiscal challenge. However, if the public begin to believe that no more help is on its way then ‘Britain’s wealthiest ever Prime Minister’ could quickly become a serious detriment to Sunak and a tag that quickly conflates to being seen as grossly out of touch.

Methodology: Savanta ComRes interviewed 4,132 UK adults online from 5th to 10th October 2022. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of UK adults by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Savanta ComRes previously interviewed 2,171 UK adults online from 14th to 16th January 2022 and 4,011 UK adults online from 8th to 10th June 2022.

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