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Richest six people in UK own as much wealth as bottom 13 million, report finds

Ben Chapman
AP

The UK’s six richest people are wealthier than the bottom 13.2 million people, according to new research highlighting a widening gulf between rich and poor.

Six billionaires have a combined wealth estimated at £39.4bn, while four million people live in poverty, the Equality Trust found.

Topping the rich list are Gopichand and Srichand Hinduja, whose £12.8bn wealth is derived from their conglomerate, which includes oil, car making and banks.

Just behind them is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the founder of fracking and petrochemicals firm Ineos, who moved to tax-free Monaco earlier this year. He has £9.4bn, according to Forbes.

Hedge fund manager Michael Platt has £6.1bn and Conservative party donors Simon and David Reuben have accumulated an estimated £5.8bn each. The six men's collective wealth is equivalent to that of the least-wealthy fifth of the UK population.

Over the last decade, billionaires in the UK have collectively more than doubled their wealth, the Equality Trust's figures show.

“Such extreme wealth in the hands of so few people demonstrates just how broken the economic system is,” said Dr Wanda Wyporska, executive director of the Equality Trust.

“Behind the numbers, the UK’s extreme inequality is the story of Ferraris and food banks. Families across the country are working for their poverty and unable to promise their children a better, secure future.

“The UK’s economy delivers billions for a few and poverty for millions. Destitution is the sad reality for millions this Christmas."

Average wealth per person in the UK has risen every year since 2008 and is now 41 per cent above its 2007 level, but the spoils have not been divided evenly.

Credit Suisse found that the number of dollar millionaires in the UK has jumped from 750,000 in 2010 to 2.5 million this year, a number that is expected to jump by almost 30 per cent over the next five years. Based on data in Credit Suisse's World Wealth Report, the Equality Trust calculates that the richest 1 per cent in the UK owns the same wealth as the bottom 80 per cent, or 53.2 million people.

Such comparisons have sometimes been criticised in the past because they define some people with debts as having zero or negative wealth, when they may actually be living relatively comfortably. The latest official figures estimate that a household in the middle of the bottom fifth of the population owns £13,854.

What is not disputed is that wealth has risen sharply over the past decade as those with assets such as shares and investment property have enjoyed rising prices. Over the same period, rewards for work have not kept up. Average inflation-adjusted wages have still not recovered to their pre-crisis peak in 2007 – the longest wage stagnation in two centuries.

Welfare cuts and tax changes since the Conservative-led coalition came to power in 2010 have hurt the poorest the most.

By far the worst affected have been the poorest 10 per cent of households with children, who have seen their incomes cut by almost a fifth – £3,800 per year, research published last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows. Overall, households in the lowest tenth – with or without children – have seen their budgets cut by 7 per cent.

The highest-income decile also pay 4 per cent more of their income as tax, the IFS found. That group, however, which has more savings, investments and property, is also most likely to have benefited from rising wealth.

Inequality has become an important issue in the election, with the Labour Party pointing out that a third of the UK's billionaires have donated to the Conservatives.

The Resolution Foundation warned last week that child poverty will rise to its highest since the aftermath of the Second World War under the Conservatives, because the party's manifesto retains existing benefit cuts.

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