The 25th edition of the Sunday Times Rich List was published last week; it lists the top 1000 wealthiest people in the UK. The Rich List is not limited to citizens born in the UK as is patently clear with a quick glance at the top ten. One of the most notable changes since the Rich List began is a move from ‘ old money’ inherited by British aristocrats, to new money, earned mostly overseas. In 1989, the Queen topped the list which was then full of dukes, marquises, earls and viscounts. It is hard to believe but The Sunday Times then described the list as an indictment of Thatcherism:” the very limited success of the Thatcher revolution in transforming British society is graphically and grimly illustrated,” said an editorial. “Liberated from red tape, inflation, crippling taxes and the union barons, British businessmen by now should have seized the commanding heights of the economy and society.”
The 2013 list is awash with businessmen but most in the top ten weren’t born in the UK. Alisher Usmanov has the accolade of being the UK’s wealthiest person. His business empire, which started with a company making plastic bags, now includes a 30% stake in Arsenal football club and Russia’s largest iron ore producer and a large share in Facebook. He is now worth £13.3 billion, up £985 million on last year when he was second on the list. He certainly hasn’t done bad for a convicted fraudster who spent six years in jail in Uzbekistan (although his conviction was overturned). His Wikipedia entry has been altered too by his PR firm. When he is relaxing in his £48 million mansion in North London though, he probably cares not about such matters.There are three Russians in the top 5 people on the list and one wonders why these mega wealth Russians come to live in London. Reasons proffered are that they won’t live in fear of their lives in London and won’t get ripped off by our government. The commentator Peter York thinks the draw of LOndon is “partly to do with fashion and partly to do with tax.”
In the days of austerity when the cuts are affecting most families in the UK, the Rich List makes a sobering read. The wealth on the list is so massive it is impossible to imagine. At a time when everybody’s income is being drastically reduced, the wealth of the super rich is apparently increasing. I thought we were all in this together? One can only imagine the privileged lives of luxury these people lead; a complete contrast to the daily grind for most middle and working class people. But I guess this is the result of a capitalist society. Many would argue that in 25 years we have made progress in that there were very few self-made millionaires in the first list and now it is self-made people (albeit who have made their wealth in other countries) who are at the top of the list. It may inspire others but I think it is sad that the implication of having a Rich List is that being rich is the only way to live a life of meaning. A ‘Poor List’ published alongside would make it far more enlightening.