More billionaires as the rich get richer

Rich and famous: Some familiar names are among those featured in the Sunday Times rich list.

The 1,000 richest people in Britain and Ireland have more than doubled their wealth in six years, while others struggle to feed themselves. Should we accept the rich getting richer?

All they have in common is that they are based in Britain or Ireland and they have money – lots of it. Those on the Sunday Times rich list include Roman Abramovich, Sir Elton John and David and Victoria Beckham. All 1,000 of those on the list possess assets – not including the money in their bank accounts – worth over £100m.

Those on the list are getting richer, quickly. Since 2009, their collective worth (now £547bn) has more than doubled and the number of billionaires among them (now 117) has almost trebled. There are more billionaires proportionally in Britain than in any of the other richest countries in the world, known as the G20, and more in London (80) than any other city in the world.

Only 62 of the billionaires on the list are British, and a super-rich foreigner – Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born US citizen who owns Warner Music and has a £13.17bn fortune – tops the list. The most famous British face is the Queen, who headed the first list published in 1989 but has now slipped to 302nd. She’s behind people such as property tycoon Lord Sugar, who has become a billionaire this year and sits 101st, and author JK Rowling, who is 193rd with £580m. This has prompted suggestions that those with inherited money may be falling behind those who have made money for themselves.

The list comes at a time when many people —- both in the UK and globally — have recently felt the impact of a global economic crisis. Last week the Trussell Trust, who provide emergency food support in the UK at food banks, said they had provided rations to feed 1.1 million people for three days each in 2014-15. And in January the charity Oxfam released a report saying that the richest 1% of people in the world will soon own more wealth than the other 99%, while one in nine people are unable to afford to eat. As the rich get richer in an environment such as this one, it exacerbates the sense that wealth inequality is becoming more pronounced.

That’s a bit rich

Those who see an intense need to tackle inequality will be repelled by what they find in the rich list. They’ll say that such enormous amounts of money should be used to do good for many people, not to allow a few to live in luxury. Resources should be redistributed so that nobody need worry about lacking basic goods, like food, clothing and shelter, again.

But others say that envy of the rich is counter-productive. People get rich by creating something useful, and then spend their money, pay tax on it or donate it to charity, helping to make everyone better off. If you really want to tackle poverty, you have to create more wealth – and that means accepting that some enterprising people will get a lot of it.

You Decide

  1. What could governments do to tackle inequality?
  2. Do you think these measures would be productive or counter-productive? Why? Which methods would you adopt?

Activities

  1. In groups, find out what you could afford if you had Len Blavatnik’s fortune (eg. How many private jets? How many loaves of bread?). If you have time, find out how much interest his money would generate in a year.
  2. Write a speech either arguing that there should or should not be a global wealth tax. Use the expert links, especially the first video, to deepen your understanding of the issue.

Some People Say...

“Inequality is bad not just for the poor, but for the rich too.”

Suzanne Moore, The Guardian

What do you think?

Q & A

Why do people pay attention to this list?
The Sunday Times has been putting the list together for 26 years now, so its methods are considered fairly reliable. People considering what to invest their money in will pay close attention to it — it might give them a clue as to how the rich are spending their money at the moment and what’s worth investing in.
Is this all just greedy rich people hogging money for themselves?
Not necessarily. As part of the project, the Sunday Times has also published a ‘giving list’ of those who have given the most to charity. Lord Sainsbury, whose family owns Sainsbury’s, gave 40% of his wealth to philanthropic causes, such as education, the arts and humanitarian projects — that’s over £200m.

Word Watch

The G20
The 20 richest countries in the world, whose finance ministers and leaders meet once a year to discuss the running of the global economy. The 2014 summit was held in Brisbane, Australia, and the next summit will be held in Antalya, Turkey, this November.
Global economic crisis
From 2008 major financial institutions faced severe problems. Investment banking giant Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in the credit crisis which almost broke the world’s financial system, leading to high unemployment and recession (where the economy shrank) in many countries.
Food banks
Venues where unwanted but in-date food is donated and then used to feed those considered in need of it. See the links for an explanation of how they work.
Oxfam
International charity which works with local communities in over 90 countries with serious poverty. Oxfam also works on disaster relief, for example in Nepal at the moment.
Redistributed
Redistribution of wealth involves taking it from some to give it to others. It most commonly refers to the practice of taxing richer members of society in order to help the poor.

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