In Depth

UK's five richest families 'worth more than poorest 20%'

As inequality grows in the UK, Oxfam calls on George Osborne to mind the gap

THE gap between rich and poor in the UK has grown significantly over the last two decades, according to a report from Oxfam, with the country's five richest families now worth more than a fifth of the population.

Britain's richest billionaires and their families now sit on wealth totalling £28.2bn, while the poorest 20 per cent of the country, some 12.6 million people, have a combined wealth of £28.1bn.

Ben Phillips, Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, said: "Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. It's deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline."

The charity argued that the Chancellor, George Osborne, should use this week's budget to redress the imbalance "by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth".

A report published recently by The Equality Trust warns of the potential dangers of Britain's growing divide between rich and poor. Researchers concluded that "the social and economic impact of inequality costs the UK the equivalent of over £39bn every year".

The findings disproved the notion that there is a "trickle-down" effect and that inequality is in the nation's long-term interest, said the director of the Equality Trust, Duncan Exley: "It can no longer be argued that inequality is harmless, or worse, that it is desirable. The cost of dealing with its effects is astronomical".

No society is ever completely equal, notes Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent, but nations as a whole tend to profit by limiting the wealth divide. "Those with governments that strive through policies and principles for greater equality and fairness, are generally happier, more cohesive and have stronger national bonds".

An Oxfam report published earlier in the year concluded that levels of inequality are even more pronounced globally. Researchers found that the world's 85 richest billionaires have a combined wealth equal to half the world's population, or 3.5 billion people.

But some analysts said that in spite of the findings, inequality is actually diminishing.

In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates noted that "by almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been" and argued that by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.

The Atlantic's senior editor Derek Thompson argues that "the chasm in investment wealth between rural Mozambique and Manhattan's financial district isn't necessarily the problem that the international development is or should be focused on". Rather, he says, international efforts should aim to spread financial skills, not just redistribute wealth.

Britain's five richest

Duke of Westminster (Wealth: £7.9bn)

Reuben brothers (£6.9bn)

Hinduja brothers (£6bn)

Cadogan family (£4bn)

Mike Ashley (£3.3bn)

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