Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top.
There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21.
The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil.
“While many of us worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, many of Britain’s richest people just kept calm and carried on making billions,” said Robert Watts, the compiler of the rich list.
Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja are the richest in the UK, with a fortune of £16.2bn, up from £13bn and second place in 2016’s list. The brothers live in a £300m mansion overlooking St James’s Park in central London. Sri, 81, and Gopi, 77, first topped the rich list in 2014 and have made their fortune from a business empire started by their father in Mumbai in 1914.
Today, the Hinduja Group employs more than 70,000 people and has global investments in a range of sectors including oil and gas, property, media and banking. Current projects include the transformation of the Old War Office in Westminster into a luxury hotel.
The Equality Trust said the £83bn increase in wealth among the richest 1,000 people over the past year could pay the energy bills of all UK households for two and a half years and would be enough for the grocery bills for all food bank users for 56 years.
Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust, said that an elite was sitting on mountains of wealth in the fifth largest economy of the world. “The super-rich continue to streak away from the rest of us, while the poorest see their wealth shrink. This is an economy working for the few, not the many,” she said.
“Record numbers of people visited food banks last year, millions are locked out of a decent home and two-thirds of children in poverty are in working households.
“We know that inequality damages our economy and society, and makes it harder for ordinary people and their children to get on. With the general election fast approaching, our politicians need to decide the sort of country they want to build. One where we can all prosper or one where we’re picking crumbs from the super-rich’s table.”
At least 28 of the top 100 individuals or families in the rich list have donated to the Conservative party or individual Tory politicians, according to the Electoral Commission’s records. Among them are David and Simon Reuben, third on the list, who donated to Boris Johnson.
Others in the top 10 who donated to the party include Guy, George and Galen Weston and Kirsten and Jorn Rausing, who donated to the West Suffolk Conservatives.
The combined wealth of all the Conservative donors on the list is £102bn, according to the analysis by Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson. “The fact that nearly a third of UK’s 100 richest people have given money to the Tories tells you all you need to know about where Theresa May’s priorities lie,” Watson said. “She claims to speak for working people but she’s beholden to the billionaires that bankroll her party.”
This year’s rich list was released on the day Labour revealed plans to raise taxes on those earning more than £80,000 a year.
The threshold to make it on to the richest 1,000 list rose to £110m this year, double the threshold of 2009. In 1997, £15m of personal wealth was enough.
Watts said there was more diversity in this years’ rich list. “More women, more people from ethnic backgrounds and more from surprising walks of life, with egg farmers and pet food makers lining up with private equity barons and hedge fund managers.”
While the wealth of the mega-rich rose overall, some saw their fortunes dwindle. Sir Philip and Lady Green slipped 12 places to 41 as their wealth fell by £433m over the past year, to almost £2.8bn, following the collapse of BHS that triggered a bitter public row.
Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct and owner of Newcastle United football club, dropped nine places to 54 after his fortune fell by £270m to almost £2.2bn. Ashley’s leadership of Sports Direct came under close scrutiny after a Guardian investigation exposed the poor treatment of warehouse workers.
The Duke of Westminster, 26, tops the young rich list with £9.5bn. He is head of the Grosvenor family, whose land and property empire spans Britain, Europe, Asia and the Americas.
‘Brexit boom’ gives Britain record 134 billionaires, fuelling inequality fears – The Guardian