Billionaires five times richer than in 2004

Fight inequality with socialism

Waltham Forest Socialist Party campaign on bankers' bonuses and bailout, photo Senan

Waltham Forest Socialist Party campaign on bankers’ bonuses and bailout, photo Senan

Simon Carter

Eye-wateringly massive inequality. An ever-widening wealth gap between the super-rich and the rest of us. Scandalous tax-avoiding arrangements propped up by successive Labour and Tory governments.

Familiar themes to readers of the Socialist, but a subject usually ignored on TV. It was therefore refreshing to watch BBC2’s recent two-part documentary, The Super-Rich and Us.

Narrator Jacques Peretti points out that Britain has the highest number of billionaires per head of population. Their estimated wealth is over £301 billion, up from £65 billion in 2004 – nearly fivefold growth.

The reason for the aggregation of the super-rich here is obvious. Thanks to decades of tax-cutting policies, this elite can live virtually tax free as “non-doms” as far as their global wealth is concerned.

Only recently did they have to pay a token £30,000 annual tax bill. As one tax expert says: “They probably spend that amount on a kid’s birthday party!”


Former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher supposedly believed in the nonsense theory of “trickle-down” capitalism. The idea is a richer minority at the top will dispense more wealth to wider society, by fuelling economic growth.

But as economists point out in the programme, in reality trickle down has meant trickle up – the 1% vacuuming up huge amounts of money from the 99%. A typical worker’s income, by contrast, has fallen by around 9% since 2008.

Peretti also reported on how the selling of properties and land by cash-strapped local authorities is making cities in Britain, particularly London, a magnet for global investors to expand their property portfolios.

Swathes of central London real estate are being gobbled up by profit-hungry Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern oil sheikhs and Chinese and South Asian speculators. These billionaires spend, on average, £22 million on each mansion they buy. And home-grown property tycoons, intimately connected with the Tory party, are rapidly expanding buy-to-let investments.

Stratospheric rents

House prices and rents in central London are now at stratospheric heights. These properties have become private security boxes for the elite – a safer investment even than gold. But as one city planner remarked, if this trend continues, then a capital city emptied of workers will cease to function.

Best-selling author and economist Thomas Piketty is interviewed in the show. He calls for a very modest wealth tax of the assets of the super-rich. But the main parties would be unlikely to implement it, since they are all funded by the same super-rich.

Piketty, however, fails to grasp that them-and-us society is not simply due to a few wilful individuals. It is inherent in the profit system of capitalism, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto way back in the 19th century.

But Marx and Engels also had a solution that retains its validity today – the abolition of class-based society and its replacement with socialism!

The Super-Rich and Us is available on BBC iPlayer.