By Charlie Kimber
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Superyacht industry is in ‘feeding frenzy’ as super-rich cash in on pandemic

Wealth taxes on the super-rich would be a start—but we need to get rid of their system
Issue 2794
A picture of a superyacht

Billionaires are living it up on superyachts

Another survey of obscene wealth has confirmed that the super-rich have plundered even more wealth during the pandemic. Rising global stock markets and increased property prices saw more than 51,000 people join the ranks of the “ultra-wealthy” last year. 

The number of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs)—those with assets of more than £22.5 million—rose globally by a record 9.3 percent last year to 610,569. That’s according to a report by the property consultants Knight Frank.

And the British wealthy are leaders in grabbing more loot. The number of Britons with assets of more than £22.5 million has doubled since 2016, and Knight Frank predicts the total will rise to more than 32,000 by 2026. 

Britain had the second-fastest rate of growth of ultra-rich people behind the US. “By any of the measures we track, 2021 was a good year for those lucky enough to be the owners of property or other tangible assets,” said Rory Penn. He is head of Knight Frank’s private office, through which he advises ultra-rich clients across the world.

No surprise then that “the superyacht industry is currently in the middle of a feeding frenzy”. “The most audacious superyacht designs on the drawing boards of today will be made for cruising around the Galapagos Islands and sightseeing in the Arctic Circle in ten years’ time,” the report says. This comes as the report admits, “Global inequality levels, exacerbated by rising energy and food costs, are increasing—even in the developed world.”

On average ultra-rich people own 2.9 homes, according to Knight Frank’s survey of private bankers and wealth advisers. One easy way to slash homelessness is to use their extra homes. Tax haven Monaco stood out as the country with the most super-rich people per capita. Some 199 people held assets of £22.5 million or more out of a population of just 39,000.

Monaco is home to several rich Britons, including the former Topshop boss Sir Philip Green and his wife Tina. There’s also the billionaire petrochemicals tycoon Sir James Ratcliffe, property billionaires Simon and David Reuben and John Hargreaves the founder and chairman of Matalan. And there’s John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of Phones4u, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.

Monaco’s reigning monarch Prince Albert II is conscious of the lack of space to attract more billionaires. So he’s overseeing a £1.5 billion scheme to reclaim six hectares of land from the sea. In his introduction to the wealth report, Penn gives a glimpse of fear. “We need to be cognisant that inequality levels are increasing,” he says. “And that the battle against climate change has reached what many now regard as a tipping point.”

This is intensified by the report’s finding that “83 percent of our Attitudes Survey respondents expect their clients’ wealth to grow further this year”. Knight Frank expects “a further 28.3 percent rise in global UHNWI numbers by 2026”. It warns, “Policy responses to tackle inequality are on the rise. Expect more wealth taxation, focused on assets rather than income, and a narrowing in the number of low-tax jurisdictions”—tax havens. 

This report follows several others that underline that the pandemic has been a boon for the rich and a terrifying burden for working class people. We should demand wealth taxes on the billionaires—but the system that produces them also has to go.

MPs cash in

April will be a harsh month for ordinary people. Simultaneously there will be soaring fuel bills, a national insurance increase for most workers, real-terms cuts in pensions and benefits and council tax rises. Transport costs and rents will go up. 

But one group will not be finding it hard. MPs will collect a pay rise of more than £2,200 a year from 1 April. That’s over twice as much as they axed from people on Universal Credit. MPs’ pay will increase from £81,932 to £84,144. And there are fat expenses and extras for ministers.

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