- Rishi Sunak will soon become the new prime minister of the UK.
- His family’s wealth clocks in at an estimated $825 million, making him one of the richest people in Britain.
- Sunak has drawn intense criticism for tax and visa scandals in the past.
Rishi Sunak is set to become Britain’s newest prime minister, taking over from Liz Truss after her astonishingly short — and chaotic — time in office.
Her aggressive tax-cutting plan coupled with already soaring interest rates and a squeeze on energy prices worldwide has left many Brits with distinct financial worries and in a cost of living crisis.
The UK now has more food banks than McDonald’s, and many people are making the choice between eating and heating their homes, as Insider’s Bethany Dawson reported. The Guardian reported in August that almost a quarter of the country is planning not to turn on the heating this winter.
On Monday, October 24, Sunak secured the backing of his Conservative Party to become its leader, thereby becoming the UK’s presumptive PM.
As a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak’s grasp of fiscal policy may be welcomed by a country facing immense financial difficulties.
However, Sunak also faces fierce criticism for his family’s extraordinary wealth. With a net worth that is more than double that of King Charles III, many fear that Sunak will not be able to understand the daily financial struggles his constituents face, especially as Britain prepares 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 surveyed question, “How would you describe Rishi Sunak in one word?”
“Clever,” “good,” and “okay” were prominently featured, but they were dwarfed by one word: “Rich.” At the time of publication, the survey’s methodology was not made public.
—Savanta ComRes (@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 his father became a general practitioner and his mother went on to run a pharmacy. In a story for Tatler, a family friend described the pair as “passionately British.” Sunak was educated at Winchester College — a fee-paying school that, in 2022, cost $38,500 to $52,000 a year to attend. In an interview with Sky News, he expressed an understanding of how beneficial attending Winchester was for his career: “I was really lucky to have that opportunity. It was something that was really extraordinary, it certainly put my life on a different trajectory.”
Sunak became head boy at the distinguished boarding school before taking a path well-trodden for British politicians, studying philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford. There, he received a First, the highest accolade for an undergraduate degree.
It was during a Fulbright scholarship at Stanford in 2006, where Sunak gained an MBA, that his future fortune first entered his life. It was there where 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 union that made Sunak the first frontline UK politician to enter The Sunday Times’ annual wealth listing.
After becoming the Conservative Party’s 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 several fiscal stimulus measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nearly $420 billion lifeline of 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 leadership election that ensued — which Liz Truss eventually won — Sunak played up his parents’ humble beginnings, emphasizing how much they had “sacrificed” to give him an expensive education.
But despite his attempts to portray a down-to-earth image, the British public has had numerous reminders that Sunak has a very different experience with money than most people.
In August, a video clip of Sunak holding his contactless debit card up to 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 resurfaced clip from a 2007 interview with the BBC, Sunak suggested he didn’t have any “working-class friends.”
—LondonWorld (@LondonWorldCom) March 24, 2022
He has also come under fire for his overt displays of wealth, including splashy purchases such as a $200 self-heating “smart” coffee cup and $500 Prada loafers. (“Values are what are 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 the odd, embarrassing photo-op.
Tax and visa scandals
In November 2020, The Guardian reported that Sunak had failed to mention his wife’s massive wealth on 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 the UK’s 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, which allowed her to avoid paying British taxes on the income she earned abroad, primarily from Murthy’s stake in Infosys, which is based in India. Murthy is also the 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 holding a US green card while he was chancellor, despite his primary residence not being in the US, provoking questions about whether he enjoyed tax benefits as a result. He relinquished his green card in October 2021, according to his spokeswoman.
It’s yet unclear whether Sunak and his family’s wealth will prove to be an issue. His supporters, including British chancellor Jeremy Hunt, argue that Sunak’s experience in finance and at the treasury make him the right man for the job.
“To restore stability and confidence, we need a leader who can be trusted to make difficult choices,” Hunt, who will be looking to keep his position as chancellor, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “We also need someone who can explain those choices to members of the public who are worried about jobs, mortgages and public service. We have a leader who can do just that in Rishi Sunak.”