In a time of recession and food banks, Alex Snowdon argues that we should make the rich pay and end the madness of austerity.

The Rich List published by Rupert Murdoch’s union-busting Sunday Times was always a dubious annual celebration of wealth. In the last few years it has increasingly been greeted by popular disgust.

Nothing more graphically captures the grotesque reality of a tiny elite enriching itself while everyone else faces cuts, pay freezes and price rises. 

This year’s list blows apart any pretence of ‘we’re all in it together’ in Tory Britain. These are the people whose interests are dutifully served by the ‘arrogant posh boys’ in Cameron’s cabinet of millionaires.

David Cameron (Eton, Oxford), George Osborne (St Paul’s, Oxford) and Boris Johnson (Eton, Oxford) represent the 1% – or more accurately 0.01% – whose monumental scrounging is documented here. They prospered in Blair’s Britain of deregulation and neoliberalism. Now they continue to rake in extraordinary wealth, as the Tories cut welfare and public services to the bone. 

The week of headlines about double dip recession and the return of food banks for the hungry ends with the news that bankers, oligarchs and speculators are prospering more than ever before. The total estimated wealth of Britain’s richest 1000 people is now a record £414 billion. This is a 4.7% increase in just a year.

The list is topped by Lakshmi Mittal (£12.7 billion, steel), Alisher Usmanov (£12.3 billion, mining) and Roman Abramovich (£9.5 billion, oil). There are 77 billionaires on the list.

It may be a time of pay squeeze, slashed pensions and welfare cuts, but it seems there is money in diamonds. Diamond retailer Laurence Graff’s wealth soared from £1.3 billion to an astonishing £3.3 billion in the last year.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is despised by his club’s fans, but his personal fortune has grown from £1.2 billion to £1.7 billion. But spare a thought for notorious tax scrounger Philip Green. His wealth fell from £4.2 billion to ’only’ £3.3 billion. How will the Arcadia Group boss and one-time government adviser manage?

If we look further than the billionaires, we find that those who are mere multi-millionaires have seen their fortunes soar. Owners of ‘cut-price retail outlets’ have profited from millions of people feeling the squeeze. One example is Tom Morris, owner of Home Bargains stores, who has mushrooming wealth: from £160 million a year ago to £620 million now.

We know that tax dodging by the rich costs our society tens of billions every year. Osborne’s recent budget for millionaries, announcing a cut in the top rate of tax, lets the wealthiest off paying more. The money is there – in unprecedented abundance – but concentrated in the bank accounts of the parasitic mega-rich.

We are told there is no alternative to austerity. Yet we could tax the rich more, close the tax loopholes and bring the banks under public control. We could use this wealth to invest in jobs, homes and decent services for the vast majority of people. The next time you hear about a cut to an essential service or a ‘reform’ of the public sector, remember the Rich List. When a politician insists the welfare state is too large or we must crack down on ‘benefits cheats’, remember that figure: 414 billion pounds. Know who the real scroungers are. Be clear that the money is there. Build a movement that insists on making the rich pay, protecting our public services and ending the madness of austerity.

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).