On 18 May, the Sunday Times published its annual fawning tribute to the extraordinary wealth of the richest members of the ruling class. The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 tells us that ‘the rich have never been richer’ and that to join the ranks of the 1,000 wealthiest people in Britain requires a fortune of £85m, and £190m to join the richest 500, more than double the £80m it required ten years ago. Other figures show:
Their collective wealth is £519bn, up from £449bn a year ago, and double the 2009 level of £258bn.
There are 104 billionaires living in Britain, and more live in London than in any other city in the world.
The report says that ‘our super wealthy are giving greater amounts to charity than ever before.’ However, the gush cannot hide the reality: that the amount they gave last year, £2.5bn, was a tiny fraction, 0.5%, of their wealth. You do not stay rich by giving it away, but giving a little bit is helpful PR.
In a striking demonstration of the durability of the 1688 settlement between the monarchy and the landed aristocracy, the latter remain the wealthiest British-born people: the Duke of Westminster (£8.5bn), Earl Cadogan and family (£4.2bn) and Baroness Howard de Walden and family (£2.5bn).
More broadly, recently-released figures show that the top 10% of households hold 44% of private wealth, five times that of the bottom 50% of households (9%): one in 11 households have a second property. Much of private wealth is based on house prices, and with the number of £1m properties doubling since 2008, and prices rising by more than 16% in London, it is evident that a tiny minority is doing well out of austerity.
But then that is its purpose: to impose a fundamental and decisive shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of the ruling class and its hangers-on.
The Sunday Times helpfully spells out what this means for the rest of us: ‘After centuries of ruling the world, western democracy is on its last legs, crushed under the weight of a bloated state. If we want to stay at the top of the global heap we must look east, where the Asian model – minimal welfare, restricted rights – is producing the world’s most successful societies.’ Such success in Britain must now be measured by the soaring levels of benefit sanctions and food bank usage.
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