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Proletarian issue 60 (June 2014)
Rich List 2014: Poor man’s poison is a rich man’s meat
This year’s Rich List has provided a perfect illustration of what is wrong with our society, as austerity for the many has led to fantastic enrichment for the few.
The 2010-12 figures on wealth distribution in Britain were published last month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS):

• Aggregate total wealth of all private households in Great Britain was £9.5tr.

• Britain’s richest 1 percent have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55 percent of the population.

• The wealthiest 10 percent of households owned 44 percent of total aggregate household wealth.

• The least wealthy half of households combined owned 9 percent of total aggregate household wealth.

At the same time, other statistics published by the ONS show how household income has on average been falling.

Growth in median household income closely mirrors growth in GDP per person for much of this time [2007-2012], rising during periods of economic growth and falling during or immediately after recessions. However, between 2004/05 and the start of the recent economic downturn, median income grew more slowly than GDP per head.

Since the start of the economic downturn, median household income and GDP per person have both fallen. However, the fall in UK median household income has been smaller than the fall in GDP per person over the same period. Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, median income fell from £24,100 to £23,200, a percentage drop of 3.8 percent, while GDP per person fell by 6.5 percent.

The impact of the economic downturn on median household income was delayed relative to the fall in GDP per person. Between 2007/08 and 2009/10, GDP per person fell by 7.7 percent, whilst median disposable income changed little. However, between 2009/10 and 2011/12, GDP per person grew by 1.3 percent, whilst median household income decreased by 4.1 percent.”

These figures lump together all households, rich and poor, so they do not show the extent to which it is the poor whose income has been worst hit. Figures shown below in this article tend to show that household incomes of the rich are likely actually to have been increasing!

In 2008/09 (since when the wealth of the richest has increased yet further), income distribution was as follows:

________ share of total income where poorest tenth is 1st and richest tenth is 10th

Year____ 1st ____ 2nd ____ 3rd ____ 4th ____ 5th ____ 6th ____ 7th ____ 8th ____ 9th ____ 10th

2008/9__ 1% ____ 4% ____ 5% ____ 6% ____ 7% ____ 9% ____ 10% ___ 12% ___ 15% ___ 31%

When the figures are published for 2013 and 2014, we would expect to find a further deterioration of the share of the poorest groups and an increase for the wealthiest 10 percent.

The Equality Trust has published statistics for 2012, which show that this translates into the following figures:

Average income of UK households in 2012

Top 0.1% ___________ Top 1% ___________ Top 10% ___________ The other 90%

£1,000,970 __________ £271,888 __________ £79,196 ____________ £12,969

Since many of those included in the ‘other 90 percent’ will be earning a lot more than the average, it is obvious that for the poorer end of this group incomes are going to be very miserable indeed.

Of course, we did not need these statistics to know that there is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor in this country, as in all capitalist countries. However, it took the publication on Sunday 18 May by the Sunday Times of its annual Rich List to supply an element of astonishment, because not too many people will have realised that since the beginning of the present economic crisis some five years ago, while all the rest of us have been suffering from declining living standards and deteriorating public services, the 1,000 richest people in this country have actually managed to double their collective fortune!

In the last year alone, the wealth of this tiny group of parasites has increased by another 15 percent. Beneficiaries include the Queen, who added £10m to her personal fortune last year, although she now has fallen to being only the 285th richest person in Britain.

Tony Bonnici wrote in the Sunday Times:

The ... 1,000 richest ... are estimated to have amassed a combined fortune of £518.975bn, equivalent to a third of the nation’s gross domestic product ...

Philip Beresford, who has compiled the [Sunday Times Rich List] since 1989, said: ‘I’ve never seen such a phenomenal rise in personal wealth as the growth in the fortunes of Britain’s 1,000 richest people over the past year’.”(‘Britain’s richest 1,000 see “phenomenal rise” in personal wealth’)

His colleague, James Gillespie, adds: “The increase in wealth means the top 64 names in the Rich List have a combined fortune of about £255bn – equivalent to the total wealth of the poorest 30 percent of the population.” (‘Rich double their wealth in five years’, 18 May 2014)

Clearly shaken by the facts he has exposed, Philip Beresford tried to console himself with the thought that “The richest have had an astonishing year, and while some may criticise them, many of these people are at the heart of the economy and their success brings more jobs and more wealth for the country.” (Quoted by James Gillespie, op cit)

Well, they may have doubled their fortunes, but they certainly haven’t doubled the jobs available! Unemployment has been increasing and wages have been falling badly in terms of purchasing power, so it’s hard to see what kind of ‘favours’ the superrich are bestowing on the country!

It is, of course, true that if all surplus value is expropriated by the bourgeoisie as capital and jobs creation is dependent on capital investment, we ‘owe’ our jobs to that investment. But all this begs the very question at the heart of the class struggle: why should those who happen to be rich be in a position to collar for themselves the surplus value produced by society to manipulate for their own aggrandisement?

Why should they have the right to withhold capital investment and to spend their fortunes on speculation, or simply hoard them, when people are desperate for gainful employment? Why should the class that produces the wealth (the working class) be deprived of the right to determine what should be done with that part of it that is not allocated to them in wages or benefits?
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