British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday asked a homeless man if he works in business, turning an attempt at small talk into controversy. (Watch the video below.)
Opposition-party deputy leader Angela Rayner shared the TV clip of the U.K. leader serving breakfast at a shelter and called it “excruciating.”
Sunak dished out eggs and sausages to a man named Dean while noting that the shelter is “a great place, isn’t it?”
Dean asked him if he was trying to right the economy, and Sunak answered in the affirmative, prompting the shelter guest to remark it would be good for business.
“Do you work in business?” Sunak asked.
“No, I’m homeless,” Dean answered. “I’m actually a homeless person.”
Dean did say, however, he was interested in business and at Sunak’s prompting, told him finance in particular. Mentioning that he used to work in finance, Sunak noted that most of those jobs were now based outside London. He asked Dean if he’d be interested.
“I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t know,” Dean responded. “I’d like to get through Christmas first.”
Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty are reportedly worth more than $800 million (in part through a hedge fund), and the new prime minister has a penchant for $4,300 suits.
The U.K. boss’ privilege turned his somewhat awkward attempt at light conversation into fodder.
Jonathan Ashworth, a Labour official, likened Sunak to Alan Partridge ― the hapless talk show host played by actor Steve Coogan. While some observers applauded the PM for engaging in aspirational dialogue, many thought his conduct was clueless.
According to Crisis, the national charity for people experiencing homelessness, it’s “estimated that around 227,000 people were experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – rough sleeping, sleeping in vans and sheds, and stuck in B&Bs – across England, Scotland and Wales in 2021.”
Sunak was appointed prime minister in October after the 44-day stint of Liz Truss, whose financial policies came under fire. He warned the country of the “profound economic crisis” when he took over.