UK wealth: how much is owned by the 1%?

Published: 13 Jan 2017

In brief

Claim

1% of the population owns 50% of the wealth of the country

Conclusion

That seems likely to be an overestimate. It may be a reference to estimates for the whole world rather than just the UK.

“A system where 1% of the population owns 50% of the wealth of the country is demonstrably failing and I don’t think that’s capitalism, I think capitalism has been replaced by something altogether more sinister.”

Arron Banks, 12 January 2017

Even though it’s tricky to estimate what people own, especially the very rich, the claim that 1% of the UK population own 50% of its wealth isn’t supported by the estimates we’ve seen.

Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report estimates that the top 1% of the UK owned about 24% of the UK’s wealth in 2016.

In the past, Credit Suisse’s estimates for the UK have been higher than others. In 2011, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that the top 1% owned about 13% of the UK’s wealth.

Mr Banks may be referring to Credit Suisse’s estimate for the world as a whole. It estimates that 1% of the world’s population own over half the world’s wealth. We’ve looked into this before, and found that a surprising number of households in the UK would fall into the top 1% globally.

“Wealth” in these estimates isn’t just money in the bank. It also includes the value of property, physical possessions, and private pensions.

Measuring wealth is tricky

It’s hard to find out who owns what, and one recent report concluded that our view of wealth in the UK was ‘seriously incomplete’.

Researchers can make estimates based on what’s paid in death taxes and income from investment, as well as household surveys.

It’s difficult to find out about about the wealth of the very rich from surveys because they’re less likely to respond. Some estimates, such as those produced by Credit Suisse, try to account for this by using information from ‘Rich Lists’ like the ones produced by Forbes and the Sunday Times.

Since each kind of source has limitations, researchers tend to say that they should be used to complement each other.

As we’ve said before, wealth isn’t the only measure of inequality that’s available. Inequalities of wealth are higher than inequalities of income, and shouldn’t be taken as a perfect measure of all types of inequality. For example, a recent university graduate may have a relatively high level of opportunity, despite having taken on more debt.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


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