The Sunday Times Rich List, published today and compulsory reading for anybody who wants to understand Britain’s power structure today, holds three extremely significant conclusions. One is that the 1,000 richest persons in the UK have increased their wealth by so much in the last 3 years – £155bn – that they themselves alone could pay off the entire UK budget deficit and still leave themselves with £30bn to spare which should be enough to keep the wolf from the door. The second, even more staggering, is that whilst the rest of the country is being crippled by the biggest public expenditure and benefits squeeze for a century, these 1,000 persons, containing many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators who caused the financial crash in the first place, have not been made subject to any tax payback whatever commensurate to their gains. This is truly a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
The third is that despite the biggest slump for nearly a century, the slowest and most anaemic recovery, and prolonged austerity stretching to a decade or more, this ultra-rich clique are now sitting on wealth even greater than what they had amassed at the height of the boom just before the crash. Their combined wealth is now estimated at more than £414bn, equivalent to more than a third of Britain’s entire GDP. They include 77 billionaires and 23 others whose wealth exceeds £750m.
Despite these massive repositories of wealth, these are some of the very people to whom Osborne gifted £3bn in his recent budget by cutting the 50p tax rate. That measure alone gave 40,000 UK millionaires an extra average £14,000 a week, at the same time as those on very low incomes in receipt of working tax credits who couldn’t find an employer to increase their hours of work from 16 to 24 a week were being deprived in the same budget of £77 a week, around a third of their income, through their tax credits being withdrawn.
In 1997 the wealth of the richest 1,000 amounted to £99bn. The increase in their wealth over the last 15 years has therefore been £315bn. If this increase in wealth were subject to capital gains tax at the current 28% rate, it would yield £88bn, and that alone would pay off more than 70% of the total budget deficit. However Osborne seems to share the notorious view of the New York heiress, Leonora Helmsley: “taxes are only for the little people”.