The past week has seen my perfectly reasonable, cool, and otherwise rock ‘n’ roll friends descend into a royal wedding frenzy not seen since … well, ever, really.
Somehow, Meghan Markle being divorced, mixed-race and from “a broken home” seems to have made it hip to celebrate this royal wedding in a way that Kate and Wills never was.
The fact that the guest list was studded by showbiz names simply seemed to prove the point. But is there really anything hip about watching a bunch of obscenely rich people all congregating under the same roof? Especially when there are thousands of homeless people sleeping rough, not just on the streets of Windsor, but up and down the country. All of which made me wonder – how many homeless people could be housed with the wealth of some of the wedding guests?
Conveniently, the Sunday Times Rich List 2018 was released the previous weekend, so we’ve got hot-off-the-press figures. David and Victoria Beckham are now worth £340 million (up from £300m in 2017). This could provide micro-homes for 8,500 homeless people (at a cost of £40,000 per home – see below). Elton John, at £300m (up from £290m in 2017), could pay for another 7,500 homes. George and Amal Clooney, with their £260m, could buy some 6,500 of the single-occupancy homes.
According to official government data, about 4,700 people per night were sleeping rough in England last autumn – a figure that has more than doubled since the Tories came to power in 2010.
But in reality, the true figure of people who are homeless or living in inadequate housing (including those in temporary accommodation, homeless shelters, etc.) is around 300,000 says Shelter, the homeless charity. So you would need to add the net worth of a few extra guests (The Queen? £370m; Oprah Winfrey? US$ 2,8bn; the Duke of Westminster and the Grosvenor family? £9.9bn; this game could end rather quickly, at this rate).
I am not suggesting that this is how we should solve the homelessness issue, let alone the housing crisis. What we need is justice, not charity.
The cost of £40,000 per micro home is provided by Homeless Foundation, a Worcestershire-based charity, who has designed and piloted the use of the iKozie, a 186 sq ft single person cabin. Of course, what is really needed is large-scale building of social housing provided at truly affordable rates. As well as broader measures to tackle inequality at large.
In the lifetime of Harry and Meghan inequality in the UK and the US have soared. In 1981, the year that Meghan was born, the top 1% in terms of fiscal income share (i.e. including social security benefits, and income from investments, amongst other sources of non-wage income) captured 9.3% of the total income; by 2014 this figure was 20.4%. It had more than doubled, meaning that the top 1% took home one-fifth of the whole pie.
In the UK, the equivalent was 6.7% in 1981 and 13.9% in 2014 (the last year we have comparable figures for). Whilst the share the 1% takes home is smaller in the UK than in the US, it too has doubled in that period.
Seen in this light, the monarchy isn’t just a relic from the past, but in many ways an accurate representation of a society that thinks extreme wealth and privilege is something we should all celebrate.