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The richest 1 per cent of people in the world now own half of the planet’s wealth, according to a new report that highlights breathtaking levels of global inequality.
The study reveals how the super-rich have profited from the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, seeing their proportion of the world’s wealth increase from 42.5 per cent in the midst of the crisis to 50.1 per cent now.
According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the top 1 per cent are now worth a total of £106 trillion – around eight times more than the size of the US economy. The wealthiest 10 per cent of people, meanwhile, own 87.8 per cent of global wealth.
“The downward trend reversed after 2008 and the share of the top 1 per cent has been on an upward path ever since, passing the 2000 level in 2013 and achieving new peaks every year thereafter,” the report says.
The gaping inequality has resulted in a huge rise in the number of millionaires and ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those worth more than $30m). Since 2000, the number of millionaires in the world has risen by 170 per cent, to 36 million, while the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals has increased five times over. The UK has the third highest number of millionaires – 6 per cent of the total.
The report states: “Increasing inequality can boost the speed at which new millionaires are created.”
At the other extreme, the poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – own just 2.7 per cent of global wealth, which grew faster in the last year than at any time since 2010, reaching a total of $280 trillion.
Charities said the findings highlighted the need for action from political leaders both in the UK and internationally.
Katy Chakrabortty, Oxfam’s head of advocacy, said: “In the UK, the wealthiest 1 per cent have seen their share increase to nearly a quarter of all the country’s wealth, while the poorest half have less than 5 per cent. This divide matters hugely at a time when millions of people across the UK face a daily struggle to make ends meet and the numbers living in poverty are the highest for almost 20 years.
“The recent Paradise Papers revelations laid bare one of the main drivers of inequality – tax-dodging by rich individuals and multinationals. Governments should act to tackle extreme inequality that is undermining economies around the world, dividing societies and making it harder than ever for the poorest to improve their lives. In the UK, the Chancellor should use next week’s Budget to prioritise tough action to tackle tax avoidance to help provide funds to fight poverty in both the UK and developing countries.”
According to the report, growth in Europe was the second highest of all regions, but the UK was singled out as having an “uncertain” outlook because of Brexit. Analysts said the impact of leaving the EU on British markets and the value of the pound means UK wealth is likely to fall by 0.9 per cent over the next five years.
In contrast, many European countries are growing rapidly: Germany, France, Italy and Spain accounted for a fifth of all global growth in the past year.
The study also found that millennials face a significant disadvantage compared to older generations.
Introducing the report, Urs Rohner, chairman of the Credit Suisse board of directors, said: “Those with low wealth tend to be disproportionately found among the younger age groups, who have had little chance to accumulate assets, but we find that millennials face particularly challenging circumstances compared with other generations.
“High unemployment, tighter mortgage rules, growing house prices, increased income inequality, less access to pensions and lower income mobility have dealt serious blows to young workers and savers and hold back wealth accumulation by the millennials in many countries. With the baby boomers occupying most of the top jobs and much of the housing, millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, homeownership and other dimensions of wellbeing assessed in this report.”
Only a small proportion of high-achieving millennials will be able to overcome the “millennial disadvantage”, he added.