The publication of the Sunday Times Rich List; the annual event where the wealthiest people in the country get the opportunity to flaunt their bank balances in what has fast become a grotesque illustration of the vast inequalities existing in modern-day Britain.
This year it is all the more galling as it comes at a time when families across the country are battling a cost-of-living crisis. While millions of families struggle to pay their bills, heat their homes and feed their kids, this year’s Rich List shows that the super-wealthy are lining their pockets to an extent never seen before.
With the top 10 entries amassing a total wealth of over £200 billion, almost four times the entire annual budget of the Scottish Government, the situation unfolding is as grotesque as it is unsustainable.
It shows no sign of slowing down and in many instances, it is ordinary working people like you and your families that are generating the wealth that is being sucked up out of our economy by this new band of wealthy elites.
We are all familiar with the energy crisis engulfing the country; we feel it in our pockets every time the gas and electric bill is due. While we may all be familiar with the crisis, not everyone is rueing the astronomical increases in energy costs.
A casual glance at the Rich List shows that in just one year, the personal fortune of Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the founder of chemicals giant INEOS has soared from approximately £6 billion to almost £30 billion largely down to the increase in energy prices.
This simple illustration alone is a stark reminder of the gross inequalities that exist at the very heart of our economy.
Just last month, the Bank of England’s top economist, Huw Pill, revealed that in his opinion people in the UK just need to accept that they are poorer. He claimed that unless working people stopped asking for wage rises, the country would be stuck in a never-ending cycle of high inflation and cost pressures.
The reality is that he couldn’t be more wrong if he tried.
Contrary to what we are led to believe, persistent inflation hasn’t been caused or sustained by an increase in wages, quite the opposite. Its persistent nature is attributable to the rampant profiteering being undertaken by big business who have been raking it in posting record profits while your wages have flatlined since 2010.
That is a decade of lost wage growth under a Tory Government that is growing increasingly out of touch and cavalier towards the living standards of people across the country. At the same time as we have experienced a decade of lost wage growth, times have never been better for big business.
Shell recently posted record profits of almost £40 billion; BP raked in almost £30 billion in profit in 2022; Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA almost doubled their pre-pandemic profits with combined profits of £3.2 billion in 2021; and research from Unite the Union analysing the largest 350 companies in the UK shows that their profit margins for the first half of 2022 were 89% higher when compared to the same period in 2019.
All the while electricity prices have increased by 67% in the last 12 months, gas prices are an eyewatering 130% higher than they were this time last year and food inflation has seen an increase of 19%.
That’s why it sickens me when I hear people say that we cannot afford to pay vital public service workers more money; that the wage demands of our nurses, doctors and firefighters are not only unrealistic and unaffordable but irresponsible; or that by meeting their entirely reasonable wage demands we would be sentencing our economy to death entrenched inflation.
It is a myth propagated by those who stand to gain enormously from wage suppression, and one that working people of all persuasions must fight back against.
For far too long, corporate greed has been bankrolled by working people. We saw it with the financial crisis as banking institutions were bailed out at the taxpayers’ expense, and we are seeing it again with businesses allowed to profiteer off the back of your hard-earned money.
It is deeply unfair that those who earn their income from wealth, as virtually everyone on that Sunday Times Rich List does, pay less tax than those of us who work for a living.
Tax Justice UK estimate that equalising Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax would generate an additional £14 billion per year that could be spent on public services.
Ownership of assets is another key lever we must be willing to pull in our attempt to shift power back into people’s hands.
Common ownership of utilities and publicly owned energy companies will help quell the excessive profiteering we are seeing in those markets, with the profits generated by the publicly owned companies ploughed back into the economy rather than into the pockets of already wealthy shareholders.
Attention should be turned to the phenomenon of private monopolisation of land across Scotland, with restrictions placed on how much can be owned or taxes levied against those accruing a common asset for private profit.
Fundamentally we must redress the balance that exists in our society before it is too late, and in doing so we must ensure that we transform it into an economy that works for the many, not the few.
You can view my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney: The Rich List: An illustration of Britain's inequalities | Glasgow Times