Rushi Sunak’s home town of Southampton is in the bottom 20% for income deprivation and on Shirley High Street it’s visible in the boarded-up store fronts and pound shops.
“At least he’s from Southampton,” says a window cleaner. “Like that’s supposed to mean something.”
Then he shakes his head: “Nah! They’re all the same.”
Sifting through items at the £1 clothes shop are Zoe Kayley and her daughter.
“Let’s hope he does something about energy bills,” she says. “They used to be manageable, but they’ve just gone up and up. It’s too much.”
The Truss mini-budget aimed to help people like Zoe, but the chancellor Jeremy Hunt has scaled some of it back with the cap on household bills ending sooner.
Many feel the bigger problem is inequality. Southampton recently applied for £55m from the government’s levelling-up fund.
Image: Zoe Kayley wants the new prime minister to focus on the cost of energy Now Mr Sunak will determine what levelling-up actually means, along with the reappointed Michael Gove as minister.
For postal workers on the picket line on Shirley High Street, it means wages meeting inflation.
“Profit isn’t a bad word,” says Rob Hayhurst, a postal worker and union rep. “But it is when profits are going up and wages stay the same.
“Sunak needs to ensure a fair wage, not just for us, but nurses, teachers, ambulance workers.”
Image: Postal worker Rob Hayhurst says Mr Sunak ‘needs to ensure a fair wage’ As he says it, an ambulance wails down the High Street towards Southampton General Hospital, where the new prime minister was born.
The hospital now has a record 50,000 people waiting for treatment.
In leadership debates with Liz Truss, Mr Sunak promised to put the NHS on a “war footing” and tackle waiting lists.
The last chancellor scrapped the social care levy and there are questions over how much this PM, who says he has to make “tough decisions”, will invest in the creaking system.
‘He needs to get us out of this mess’
Outside Southampton’s largest hospital I meet Leslie Jones, visiting her husband, Stephen, who has had an operation on a brain tumour.
Image: Leslie Jones says her husband, who’s just had cancer surgery, is waiting for a hospital bed “He is getting all the care he needs, but for the right treatment he needs to move now to another hospital and we are waiting for a bed,” she says.
“And I suspect it is bed blocking, because they can’t move people out into the social care system, because there aren’t enough places.”
Other patients said high staff turnover in the hospital was visible and one patient suggested “we need to encourage immigration” to get more nurses.
Image: The PM used to work at Kuti’s Indian restaurant
Image: Lucian says Mr Sunak was ‘always enthusiastic and wanting to learn’ Mr Sunak is the son of a GP and a pharmacist and worked in his mother’s shop and did shifts at Kuti’s Indian restaurant, where jazz singer Lucian got to know him and describes him as “always enthusiastic and wanting to learn”.
“He needs to get us out of this mess,” he says. “But we all need to club together and get behind him. He needs the party and the country’s support.”
Mr Sunak says “economic stability” will be at the heart of his government, but even if he achieves that the boy from Southampton has his challenges stacked up.