Two sets of data released in the last week show the extent to which the distribution of wealth in Britain is highly unequal, and increasingly so.
The first data come from the government’s Office of National Statistics wealth survey for 2010 to 2012. This shows that the richest 10% own 44% of all household health, and the bottom half own only 9%. The top five billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest 20% of the population.
The ONS carefully spun the figures to suggest that although the figures show inequality, this inequality is getting no worse. This largely rests on most people’s wealth not being wealth at all. Over two-thirds of it is the houses that people live in and their pensions schemes. Dig a bit deeper into the figures, and much greater inequality emerges.
The worst inequality lies in what the ONS call financial wealth which includes savings and the ownership of assets such as shares in companies. The Gini coefficient (which measures inequality where 0 would indicate complete equality everyone owning the same and 1 complete inequality with one person owning everything) is now 0.84 for financial wealth, up from 0.81 in the previous study 2008/2010.
A very rough idea of what that means is that this is the figure that would be produced if all the financial wealth were owned by 8% of households. Note too, that this survey covers the period of 2010 to 2012, it is likely the inequalities of wealth have increased in the unequal economic recovery since 2012. This figure could also be worse since it does not touch on the billions that the wealthy have squirreled away in tax havens.
This picture of increasing concentration of wealth is backed up by the latest Sunday Times Rich List. This shows the richest 1,000 people/families in Britain having total wealth of £519 billion, up 15% from last year. Since the financial crash of 2008/2009, this group have seen their wealth increase by 80%.
Austerity has definitely been inflicted on the many for the benefit of the few.