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National Wealth Surplus
The results of our wealth polling are in. 8 in 10 Brits are concerned that the wealthy don’t contribute their fair share of taxes. People are most positive about entrepreneurs, followed by landlords.
Public attitudes to wealth and wealth inequality are nuanced, partly because of widespread admiration for entrepreneurs (and a strong belief in meritocratic ideals), and partly because people think of wealth as a legitimate and necessary aspiration because it is a way of providing security for themselves and their dependents in an insecure world. However, at the same time there is deepening anger about excess wealth - especially if it is not seen as being ‘earned’ or theoretically attainable by anyone who is sufficiently talented and hard working.
Today, we’re publishing the results of some recent polling on attitudes to wealth and wealth inequality: National Wealth Surplus. We set out to explore two questions. Firstly, how much do attitudes vary based on the source of the wealth, and in particular whether it was earned through work or acquired in other ways (such as inheritance, or rent)? Secondly, what do people think about key fairness questions in relation to people with net wealth of £10 million or more (high net worth individuals)?
Our latest polling has found most people think that opportunities to make money aren't evenly spread, and that many have achieved their wealth more through luck than by hard work. Views about fairness and positive impact on society are split – while large numbers are unsure about taxation.
Unfair spread: 69% of people are concerned that a small number of people in the UK have £10m or more in net wealth, while others live in poverty and are facing tough spending choices in a cost-of-living crisis
Hoarding wealth: 65% worry that there are unequal opportunities to accumulate wealth
Contributing to society: 68% of people think the government should be doing more to tax high net worth individuals (those with £10m or more), while 79% worry that the wealthy don’t contribute their fair share
Influence and money: 75% of people worry that people with net wealth of £10m or more have too much influence on the political system
Where your money comes from matters: Asked about sources of wealth, people are most positive about entrepreneurs, followed by landlords, and most negative about city traders and ‘old-money’ heirs
Why does wealth inequality matter?
Wealth inequality is twice as high as income inequality. The richest fifth of the population own 63% of the country’s wealth; the poorest fifth own 0.6%. Men have 40% more wealth than women. White households are four times more likely to have more than £500,000 in wealth than black African households.
Wealth inequality is a barrier to the achievement of all five of the fair necessities. It allows poverty to reach unacceptable levels. It leads to educational and job market inequalities. It undervalues many forms of work. If not properly taxed, it weakens public services. And it leads to inequalities across class, racial, gender, regional and generational divides across every aspect of society, from democracy to housing and health.
What do the public think about taxing high net worth individuals?
Most people are concerned that high net worth individuals (defined as people with net wealth of £10m or above) aren't paying enough taxes and have too much influence on politics. People are also worried about the socio-economic impacts of wealth inequality, in terms of both opportunities and outcomes.
Two in three respondents think that the government should being doing more to tax high net worth individuals. This question does not distinguish between taxes on income and taxes on wealth, or between the design of the tax system (rates, allowances etc) and its operation (such as cracking down on tax avoidance).
When asked about the overall acceptability of people accumulating large amounts of wealth, the public is split. Most people place themselves somewhere towards the middle on a scale between two opposing views (red: it’s unacceptable, e.g. because it harms opportunities for others, and green: it’s acceptable, e.g. because it rewards and incentivises hard work).
Does the source of wealth affect attitudes?
We asked people for their views about seven different characters, each of which have accumulated £5 million in a different way:
A | The new-money heir has inherited £5m from their parents, who built up a successful business from scratch
B | The old-money heir has inherited £5m from their father, whose family has been wealthy for many generations
C | The landlord has accumulated £5m by building a large portfolio of rental properties over their lifetime
D | The entrepreneur has accumulated £5m by building a business from scratch and then selling it
E | The investor has accumulated £5m by extracting dividends from a hedge fund that they started up
F | The finance whizz has accumulated £5m by being paid large bonuses every year as a successful city trader
G | The sports star has accumulated £5m by being paid a large salary for 15 years as a footballer
For each character, we asked five questions, each with two possible answers (below), and asked respondents to pick the answer they most agreed with in each case (or neither, if unsure).
Accumulating wealth in this way…
Here are the results for each of the seven characters:
Looking across all five questions, most people think that opportunities to make lots of money aren't evenly spread, and that many have achieved their wealth more through luck than by hard work.
This view holds for all characters with the exception of entrepreneurs, and to some extent landlords, both of whom are viewed more favourably by the public. Views about fairness and positive impact on society are split, while large numbers are unsure about taxation (although the issue of taxing wealth is examined in more detail in a separate question).
Comparing ‘net approval ratings’ for the seven characters, the entrepreneur comes out clearly ahead, scoring high in terms of having earned their wealth fairly (and more through hard work than luck) and their positive impact on society, although many people do not think that everyone has an equal chance to become one. The second most positively viewed character is the landlord, followed by the new-money heir and then the investor. Bringing up the rear are the sports star, the finance whizz and the old-money heir.
The differences between 2019 Conservative and Labour voters are not as large as might be expected. Conservative voters are often broadly in line with the national average. However, where they do diverge, the differences are sometimes surprising. For example, for several characters, Conservative voters are more, rather than less, likely than the average respondent to believe that accumulating wealth in this way is only possible for some people in society.
To discuss the findings of our polling, and to place it in the context of other research (including the Sunday Times Rich List, which is coming out over the next few days), we’ve assembled an expert panel for an online webinar, from 11:00 to 12:00 on Tuesday 23 May. You can register here.
About the polling
Visit fairnessfoundation.com/national-wealth-surplus to read the full report. The online version includes:
Visualised breakdowns by a wide range of demographic groupings for each question
Video vox pops from survey respondents and word cloud analysis of free text answers
An expert commentary by Dr Arun Advani, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Warwick
A summary of key findings from existing research into attitudes to wealth and wealth inequality
Links to related statistics from the Fairness Index and relevant third-party reports
Fieldwork was carried out by Opinium between 26 and 28 April, with a nationally representative sample of 2,053 adults across the UK, weighted to nationally representative criteria and various political criteria. The order of options presented in each question was randomised. The full data tables can be downloaded here. All charts are made with Flourish.