The prime minister was asked by an audience member if he could live off the minimum wage – £6.50 an hour – as part of a discussion about low pay, but stumbled when asked to specify the living wage, saying: “It’s different in different parts of the country ... I don’t have the figures in my head.”
The awkward exchange was part of a Radio 1 Live Lounge interview in which Cameron was frequently interrupted by audience members, who challenged him on issues including homelessness and the voting age.
During the debate, Cameron struggled to defend his record on tackling homelessness after he was questioned by audience member Mateasa, who found herself homeless aged 18. She told Cameron she was laughed at by her local authority when she approached them and ended up sleeping rough because she was not considered vulnerable enough.
He said building “more houses” was a priority, along with “reforming the planning system and making sure people can get mortgages … The short-term answer is making sure local authorities house young people.”
“The number of people sleeping rough has gone down,” he added, explaining that he also thought it was crucial to get people into work. “The best route out of poverty, to avoid food bank usage, is to make sure more people get a job.”
During the discussion, Cameron also refused to rule out working with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), despite criticism of the Northern Ireland party’s record on gay rights. “I totally disagree with the DUP about this issue,” he said. “I’ve got a strong record for standing up for gay and lesbian people in this country.
But audience member Mary told Cameron the party has “blamed gay people for hurricane Katrina, called Pride repugnant, [and] blocked marriage equality.”
Cameron was also questioned on the disillusionment young people had towards the Conservatives’ policies. “I don’t accept that if you gave the vote to 16- or 17-year-olds, they would miraculously vote this way or that way,” he said.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the interview showed that Cameron was out of touch. “It’s no wonder the Tories have nothing to offer working people,” he said. “And unlike the Tories, who have done nothing to promote it, Labour will help employers pay a living wage with new incentives through Make Work Pay contracts.”
The UK living wage is £9.15 per hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the country.
This article was written by Rebecca Ratcliffe, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd April 2015 20.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010