From a council estate to Britain’s richest man

Hero or villain? Jim Ratcliffe was once nicknamed “Dr No” due to his harsh negotiating style. © Getty

Should we celebrate wealth? The Sunday Times has published its annual list of the UK’s 1,000 richest people. At the top is Jim Ratcliffe, a billionaire from a council estate in Manchester...

Bottle caps, toothpaste, food packaging, mobile phones — you won’t know it, but you probably use a product made by Jim Ratcliffe’s company almost every day. Ineos is a chemicals manufacturer, meaning it produces the raw materials for a dizzying number of everyday objects.

Now, Ratcliffe has been named the wealthiest person in Britain. With an estimated fortune of £21 billion, he easily tops the annual Sunday Times Rich List, which was published yesterday.

He is no ordinary billionaire: he was raised on a council estate; his father was a joiner who left school at 14; he avoided university in London because he had never been to the capital before. Now, his office is right by Harrods — and he is the first “self-made, British-born industrialist” to top the Rich List, according to its compiler, Robert Watts.

This year the list is celebrating its 30th birthday, and things have changed a lot since it was first published. In 1989, the richest 200 people in Britain were worth £38 billion in total. Now that is less than the value of the top two. There were nine billionaires on the first list; now there are a record 145. And they are getting richer far quicker; last year, the combined wealth of the entire list grew by 10%, to a record £724 billion.

But the biggest change, Watts wrote, is the type of person on the list. “Aristocrats and inherited wealth has been elbowed out of the list and replaced by an army of self-made entrepreneurs.” In 1989, less than half of the list had made their own money. Now, it is 94%.

The list also offers insight into the fortunes of celebrities. Adele and J.K. Rowling got richer. Daniel Craig and Rita Ora appeared for the first time. Meanwhile, Jamie Oliver dropped off the list after closing 12 restaurants.

Not everyone finds the list inspiring. Today, the Labour Party’s shadow cabinet office minister will make a speech arguing that it “exposes a warped system in which a super-rich elite runs rings around the rest of us”.

Is money worth celebrating?

A bit rich

No, argue some. As the Bible itself says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. After a certain point, being rich stops making people happy. And the desire to keep earning more can often make us greedy and selfish — it is shameful of Ratcliffe to keep so much money when there are children going hungry in his own country.

This is too simplistic, argue others. Ratcliffe’s “greed” is actually a desire to work hard and create jobs for thousands of people. He pays taxes and gives to charity. So what is the problem? We should be happy that so many people in Britain have made such large fortunes, often from nothing — it is a reminder that we could do the same one day.

You Decide

  1. If you had £21 billion, how much of it would you give away to good causes?
  2. Is it wrong to love money?

Activities

  1. Find out what you could afford if you had Jim Ratcliffe’s fortune (eg How many yachts could you buy? How many hospitals could you build? How many trips around the world could you take?) Then make a list of the top five things you would do with the money.
  2. Create a timeline which shows some of the main events in Britain’s economy over the last 30 years, since the Rich List began.

Some People Say...

“Money is a great servant but a bad master.”

Francis Bacon

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
To make it onto the 2018 Rich List, you had to have at least £115 million. This year there were a record 141 women on the list, with the richest being Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken of the Heineken brewing company. She is worth £11.1 billion. The list includes anyone who lives or works in Britain, regardless of where they were born.
What do we not know?
How accurate the fortunes are. The Sunday Times estimates each person’s wealth based on assets like their homes, shares in a company or artwork. The newspaper does not have access to the amounts held in someone’s bank account, which means most people are probably richer than the list says. We also do not know if there are people who should appear on the list but don’t, because they have managed to keep their wealth private.

Word Watch

£21 billion
This is up £15.3 billion from last year, mostly because The Sunday Times was given better access to his company’s financial information this year. However, it does not actually mean he has that much money in cash or in a bank account. The newspaper “cautiously” valued Ineos as being worth £35 billion based on its current profits. As Ratcliffe owns 60% of his company, that puts his wealth at £21 billion.
Top two
In second place were Sri and Gopi Hinduja, two brothers who topped the list last year. They are worth £20.6 billion.
Richer
According to The Sunday Times, since 1989 “the combined wealth of the richest 200 is up 1,280%, against an inflation rate of 137% over the same period”.
Entrepreneurs
The businesses which made people rich are incredibly varied. They range from food companies like Hotel Chocolat, to technology and online businesses like Skype.
Bible
This was written in a letter by Paul the Apostle. (The verse is 1 Timothy, 6:10)
Going hungry
According to the United Nations last year, around one in five children live with an adult who does not have enough food.