Image: Jacob Vizek, Unsplash

Is the party really over? Wealth inequality is out of control

The Sunday Times Rich List (STRL) is presented as a list of worthy individuals who provide tangible benefits to the UK and to whom the rest of us should be grateful. In this year’s entry alone, The Times asked us to sympathise with losses, celebrate the savvy of Mike Ashley, and explicitly connected the boom for billionaires with good times for the rest of us.

In reality, however, the list serves as a demonstration of the UK’s high and entrenched levels of structural inequality in income, wealth, and power. It showcases the significant disparities that exist within society, highlighting the concentration of wealth among a small number of individuals or families.

The STRL underscores that wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a select few, while a large portion of the population struggles to meet their basic needs. For example, between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023 the Trussell Trust distributed close to 3 million emergency food parcels to people facing hardship. From 2021 to 2022, billionaires added nearly £56bn to their collective wealth, while households in child poverty grew by 350,000 to 4.2 million; that’s 29 per cent of children, or nine in a classroom of 30. 

This growing gap between the richest and the rest of society exacerbates social divisions and leads to social, health and economic consequences. The public are increasingly aware of this, too. According to new polling from the Fairness Foundation, 75% believe the wealthiest have too much power over our political system, while two thirds are concerned by the levels of wealth and inequality in the UK.

In addition to income and wealth inequality, the STRL also indirectly reflects disparities in power and influence. Those with substantial financial resources often have the means to shape economic policies, influence political decisions, and impact social dynamics, further reinforcing the existing power structures. Showing this clearly is none other than the STRL; over half of the £796bn of wealth on the list comes from finance, property, and inheritance. This wealth isn’t earned, it just accumulates, and over the last few decades society has been increasingly structured to encourage that.

As outlined in our Billionaire Britain report, the ability to channel wealth into the hands of very few people in finance and property is the result of political choices. 

However, our Billionaire Britain report also contains solutions: including a progressive wealth tax; ending the UK’s role in tax avoidance and increasing transparency; reforming the financial sector to promote responsible investment; and democratising corporations to end shareholder primacy.

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Priya Sahni-Nicholas is a co-executive director of The Equality Trust