The world's richest 1 per cent may soon own more than the 99 per cent. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The richest 1 per cent is set to own more than the rest of the world: we need action on inequality

A rich man's world.

The media has dubbed today "Blue Monday" – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Pseudoscience, probably, but it’s hard not to feel gloomy with a report out today from Oxfam showing that the world’s richest 1 per cent have increased their combined share of global wealth to almost half, and if current trends continue, next year will see them overtake the other 99 per cent. Equally striking is the finding that the combined wealth of 3.5bn people – half the world’s population – is matched by the wealth accumulated to just 80 individuals, who enjoy beneficial political influence by virtue of their assets, according to Oxfam. 

This extreme concentration of wealth is not an abstract global problem, but one that’s visible on our own doorstep. New Equality Trust research shows that the richest 100 families in Britain in 2008 have since seen their combined wealth increase by at least £15bn. The wealth of the top 100 increased by a staggering rate of £1,268 per second last year, to equal that of nearly a third of UK households put together. And among the richest of the rich in this country, ten people saw their incomes rise by £3.1bn to an eye-watering £96.6bn.

Contrast this with a JRF report also out today, showing that more than 8m parents and children in the UK are living on family incomes which are inadequate for supporting a socially acceptable standard of living, an increase of over a third since 2008/9. Within this group, families headed by lone parents and those with a single breadwinner have faced significant increases in their likelihood of having to try to make ends meet on an insufficient income. 

Given what we know about the negative health and social effects of pronounced economic disparity, these refreshed figures on accumulated wealth and increasingly inadequate incomes are great reason for concern. The three pieces of research come at the beginning of the week when politicians, civil society and business leaders are due to meet in Davos at the World Economic Forum to discuss key issues of global concern. Last year, inequality was a dominant theme, and experts have placed deepening income inequality in the top spot for 2015 as well. However, talking about inequality isn’t really getting us anywhere and concerted action globally and at home is urgently needed if we are to stem the upward flows of wealth and power.

Lucy Shaddock is Policy and Campaigns Officer at The Equality Trust

Paul McMillan
Show Hide image

"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496