Forget cuts and austerity. For the rich it’s like the recession never happened
Fortune of £70m needed to make UK’s wealthiest 1000, who are worth just 4% less than in 2008
Britain’s wealthiest residents have recouped their losses from the financial crisis and are now just short of the record registered before the 2008 financial crash.
While most of the country struggles through the fallout from recession and government cuts, the UK’s 1,000 richest people are now worth £396bn, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List. That figure is just 4% below that recorded at the height of the boom in 2008, before the financial crisis hammered large dents in many fortunes.
There are now 73 sterling billionaires, an increase of 20 on last year’s total and just two short of the all-time high. Meanwhile, a fortune of at least £70m is required to feature among the country’s 1,000 richest, up from £55m in 2009 and £63m in 2010.
Chuka Umunna, a Labour MP and member of the Treasury select committee, said: “Clearly we are not all in this together. In this time of austerity many independent experts such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies have found that the impact is falling heavier on lower-income families and middle Britain.
“It is not indulging in the politics of envy to say that you want to find a more fair and equitable society. The challenge is to find a system that doesn’t just work for the wealthy but also works for everybody else more effectively.”
Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal is still the country’s richest individual, worth £17.5bn, which is down from £22.5bn last year and, strangely, makes him this year’s biggest loser. In second place, up from sixth last time, is another steel magnate, Uzbek-born Alisher Usmanov, who has just been outmanoeuvred by his American rival Stan Kroenke in the battle to take over Arsenal. However, he should be able to console himself with his stakes in Metalloinvest, Russia’s largest iron ore producer, which he is hoping to float in London, and mail.ru, the Russian technology group which owns about 2% of Facebook. In third spot is Chelsea owner and Russian oil and industrial billionaire Roman Abramovich, meaning the list continues to feature some very international figures. However, some suggest that even this group fear they might soon feel squeezed.
Philip Harris, head of UK private clients at RBC Wealth Management, said: “While recent government tax moves have hit the wealthy, the impact so far at the very top of the tree has been more negligible.
Nevertheless, there is a concern amongst the foreign-born wealthy that they have been targeted beyond their fair share, such as through the additional non-dom levy announced in the budget. For the moment, the advantages of London continue to be a significant draw for these internationally mobile individuals. However, there is a danger that the continued presence of these wealth creators could be taken for granted in the search for a boost to the Exchequer.”
The richest Briton in the list remains the Duke of Westminster, who has dropped one place to fourth but seen his worth rise by £250m to £7bn – partly because foreign billionaires have buoyed the London property market, which accounts for a sizeable chunk of his empire. Meanwhile, stories of homegrown entrepreneurs making their money by creating huge businesses still endure. Vacuum cleaner inventor Sir James Dyson is now classed as a billionaire after his wealth soared from £920m last year to £1.5bn, as his company has introduced more products. Meanwhile Dame Mary Perkins, who founded the Specsavers optician chain with her husband Douglas, has become Britain’s first self-made female billionaire with a fortune of £1.2bn.
While there are more than 100 women in the list for the first time, Perkins stands out as having forced her way on to the list by making her own money. The couple met while studying optometry at Cardiff University and opened their first optician in Bristol in the 1960s.
However, not every multimillionaire has enjoyed a return to the boom years. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of budget airline easyJet, is among the list’s biggest losers this year after seeing his wealth slump by £140m to £680m as the value of his stake in the airline has fallen. In 2008, the businessman, who was knighted in 2006 for services to entrepreneurship, was worth £812m.