“The richest one per cent pocketed 66 per cent of all new wealth created since the pandemic began. Just 10 individuals now have more wealth than the poorest three billion people on earth.”
By Jon Trickett MP
The party is over’ proclaimed the Sunday Times at the weekend as they published the Rich List for 2023. But the truth is that the wealthy still have much to celebrate. While working people face the biggest fall in living standards since records began and millions are struggling to pay their bills, a small elite still controls an obscene amount of our country’s wealth.
This year’s rich list finds that the 350 richest people in the country have a record combined wealth of £796.459 billion. That figure is larger than the GDP of Switzerland.
And since 2009, the collective wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 people – many of whom fund the Tories – has increased by almost £500 billion.
The richest one per cent pocketed 66 per cent of all new wealth created since the pandemic began. Just 10 individuals now have more wealth than the poorest three billion people on earth.
So why does The Sunday Times suggest that last year was a bad year for the rich? Firstly, because the number of UK billionaires is down six from 2022 to 171. Secondly, wealth shared by UK billionaires grew by just £30,734 in 2022, which is a fall in real terms due to inflation.
Inflation, it would seem, is knocking down the value of the wealth of some of the super-rich, but let’s not lose touch with reality. This will hardly be noticeable to a group of people who can afford just about anything that money can buy.
All things considered this era remains historically unprecedented in the levels of extreme wealth owned by a small elite. It is as true as ever: the rich have never had it so good.
The reason why is because our economy is deliberately structured to redistribute wealth from working people into the hands of a wealthy elite. The whole game is rigged against tens of millions of us, yet the Tories continually manage to persuade voters that the super-rich somehow represent the interests of ordinary folk.
When wages fall, prices rise and profits go up, that is a redistribution of wealth from bottom to top. One only need look at the record profits being posted by many companies whilst their workers are forced to accept a real terms pay cut to understand how we have got to where we are.
According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, workers living standards are falling by the largest amount since records began. How has this been possible? A large part of the answer is that trade unions do not have enough power in our economy. Since the 1970s, a growing slice of the pie has gone to capital over labour. This was made possible by attacks on trade union rights. When trade unions are strong, workers are wealthier. When trade unions are weakened, workers are worse off.
We see this all too clearly in the obscene profiteering by corporations. Unite’s latest research shows that FTSE 350 profit margins for the first half of 2022 were 89 per cent higher than in the same period in 2019. Company bosses and shareholders have reaped generous gains from an economic crisis. It’s this profiteering, not workers’ wages, which have driven inflation to where it is now.
And this explains why the Tories are in the process of passing their new anti-trade union law – the Minimum Services Bill. This is intended to make effective industrial action in certain sectors impossible by forcing unions to ensure a minimum level of service is maintained. This flies in the face of the democratic right to strike, which is a cornerstone of democracy in a capitalist economy. If workers cannot take effective action against their employers, then how can we expect anything other than wages to be driven down in the future whilst profits rise even higher? The Tories are setting us on a trajectory to even greater inequality.
I will oppose this new draconian Bill, but we must go further than that. We must repeal all anti-trade union laws and establish a new framework for workers’ rights where trade unions have much more power in our economy. This means sectoral collective bargaining, rights at work from day one in the job and organising time for trade union reps to fulfil the important job they do in every workplace.
We can only begin to reverse the trend of runaway wealth inequality by empowering trade unions. With more rights and protections, workers will take back a greater share of the pie that they’ve been deprived of for decades.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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