The Sunday Times this week published the latest list of the collective wealth of the 1,000 multimillionaires in Britain which has climbed to £335.5 billion, up £77.265 billion on 2009. Despite the global economic downturn this represents 29.9% growth on last year – the biggest rise in the 22-year history of the Rich List.
Quite apart from the fact that this is yet another indication that those ‘architects’ of the economic crisis have also been its beneficiaries, this level of growth is completely unsustainable by almost any standards. It does, though, suggest a rather tempting solution to the political parties’ collective headache over the public deficit.
By our calculations, just 20% of the combined wealth of the Rich List would be sufficient to fund the entire public deficit for 2010-2011. In political party terms, just half of last year’s growth could plug the hole in Liberal Democrat plans; a 25% share of the richest hundred’s combined wealth of £182bn would fund Labour’s shortfall; and if this year’s 53 billionaires (rising from 43 last year) could stump up £53bn between them, that would plug the Conservatives' plans.
Of course, if it was done through taxation there would be cries of foul and flight – although interestingly the Sunday Times this year plays down such cries as threats rather than realities – but it would be worth the anoraks running some sums.
But in these unprecedented times, what if the Rich List 2010 somehow clubbed together and in an act of monumental generosity simply gave a small part of their wealth away? For the many millions facing as yet unknown austerity in our schools, hospitals and communities, it might make a difference that would go down in the annals of history far more than any investment in a trophy football team or quantity of private jets. And for the richest thousand? They probably wouldn’t even notice.