05/03/2015 03:12 GMT | Updated 05/03/2015 03:59 GMT

MPs Are 'Out Of Touch And Just Don't Get What Life Is Like For The Poor', Lord O'Donnell Says

Too many MPs are out of touch and "just don't get" what life is like for those struggling with money, the former Cabinet Secretary to David Cameron has said.

Lord O'Donnell, who stood down as head of the civil service in 2011, said there were still MPs whose attitude was: "We send our kids to public schools, we have private health care, we travel by car or chauffeur, we don’t go on public transport.”

Without naming anyone specifically, he said: “There are unfortunately too many people in politics who just don’t get it; who just don’t understand what life on benefits would be like.”

Lord O'Donnell (left) was cabinet secretary until 2011

In an interview with the Global Government Forum, he described his time as press secretary to then-prime minister John Major, who would say the Tories needed to "really care about public services” but was met with opposition from ministers who said: “Why should we bother about that? Our people don’t use them.”

Lord O'Donnell, who went to state school, said ministers should ideally "have done jobs like the population they’re serving” and said more candidates should be selected by open primaries to "attract people who have done other jobs".

He said: “That could be a really big positive. We’d get a more diverse Commons with people who’ve got more experience of the world, not just being in politics all their lives.”


Both Cameron and Ed Miliband, both educated at Oxford, have faced criticism for limited experience outside politics.

Cameron worked as a political researcher, ad in PR before going into politics. Miliband was recently challenged to say what experience he had outside parliament and he cited his work at the Treasury and his lecturing at Harvard.

Cameron's cabinet reshuffle in July last year hit headlines for increasing the number of women but was criticised for being unrepresentative in other areas.

Lord O'Donnell, who is a cross-party peer, also said the House of Lords needed reform because it was "just too big" in the face of more appointees than ever.

He said: “There needs to be a debate on reforming the Lords. The problem is that there are now more and more party-political appointments: every time there is a new administration, it appoints a whole bunch of people to try and ensure that they’ve got a majority. Every time that happens, the house just gets bigger and bigger.”