Yesterday, the Sunday Times published its annual Rich List of the 1,000 wealthiest people in the UK. Their wealth has been booming, more than doubling in the last 10 years and increasing from £519billion to £547billion in the last year alone. In one year, that’s a £28billion increase, or £3million more every single hour that sits in the land, property, assets or shares of the very richest (data does not include bank accounts).
Oxfam recognises that you can’t look at the wealth of the very richest in isolation. The money and power at the top impacts the rest of us, too.
Let’s look at property – the sector where 161 of the 1,000 richest people are listed as having interests. The collective wealth of these 161 people is £117billion. These individuals and families recorded an increase from the previous year of $14bil and that’s not including the increase in the wealth of the 7 individuals that are new to the list. Ninety-six people on the Rich List are listed as having made their money exclusively from property and, for the other 65, property forms at least part of their money making projects. Owning property in the UK can be very profitable, as house prices continue to rise (7.2% in the last year and almost 10% in London). Some of these properties, very much seen as assets rather than homes, are simply left empty. This is a time when demand continues to outstrip supply for houses in the UK and when Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, believes that the housing crisis is “the biggest risk” to the UK economy. The housing and homeless charity Shelter released a report last month highlighting the stark inequality of access to the housing ladder in the UK between those than can afford to buy homes (the flyers) and those that increasingly struggle (the triers). Owning a house in the UK is becoming increasingly elusive for poorer people whilst the property millionaires watch their fortunes grow.
Not only do the richest continue to make more money, they have huge influence when they spend it. Last week the Sunday Times published a list of the biggest political donors (it is no surprise that almost half the individuals on last week’s list also feature on the Rich List). It found that 25 individuals were responsible for one quarter of all party donations. Starting with the wealthiest, Galen and George Western, the 3rd wealthiest in the UK on this year’s Rich List, with $11billion, donated £100,000 to the Conservative Party. David and Simon Reuben, with a wealth of just under $10billion, donated more than £300,000 to the Conservative party. Lakshmi Mittal and family with a wealth of over £9billion donated £1million to the Labour party.
In January, we published a report which highlighted the extent of wealth inequality (that 80 people stat). This same report also looked at how much companies in different sectors spend on lobbying, to deliberately influence policies. The data analysed in the report shows us how wealthy individuals are financing our political system, bringing them access and influence that the rest of us could never dream of.
Runaway wealth is not just a story about people at the top, it affects all of us through our economy and political system and that’s why Oxfam is working to Even It Up and end extreme and rising inequality around the world.