The accumulated wealth of Britain’s richest 1% is more than 20 times the total of the poorest fifth, making the country one of the most unequal in the developed world, according to analysis by Oxfam.
The anti-poverty charity said the figures suggest that the property, pensions and shares owned by around 634,000 of the UK’s richest people are worth 20 times as much as the assets held by the poorest 13 million.
In a plea to Theresa May, the charity said the government needed to take action to close the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”, adding that the UK’s inequality problem was likely to be a contributing factor in the vote to leave the European Union.
Significant rises in property prices over the last 20 years, especially in London and south-east England, have combined with generous boardroom retirement schemes to boost the wealth of the richest, while those who rent and have no pension have seen their wealth remain unchanged or decline.
The report said: “The UK is one of the most unequal developed countries in the world. Three decades of high-level inequality have had a profound impact, leading many people to believe that they have little stake in society and to feel locked out of politics and economic opportunity.
“Whatever your views on Brexit, the referendum brought divisions within our country to a head, with many people expressing distrust and disconnection with political processes and voting for change in the hope that it would improve their economic position.”
The report used data from investment bank Credit Suisse, which showed the richest 10% own more than half of the country’s total wealth. The top 1% own just less than a quarter of the total wealth (23%), while the poorest 20% share just 0.8% of the country’s wealth between them.
Researchers from Credit Suisse said last year that wealth inequality in the UK has risen since 2000 “as the gap in wealth per adult between the lower segment and rest of the population has increased”.
The Oxfam paper welcomed the prime minister’s recognition of the need to shake-up corporate culture and suggested a four-point action plan for her to adopt.
It said the tax system needed to be overhauled so the richest members of society and major corporations paid their fair share of tax. It also called for curbs on excessive pay, extra funding for skills training and greater worker representation on boards.
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