Rishi Sunak has become the first frontline politician to be ranked among the UK’s wealthiest people, only days after the chancellor warned consumers that “the next few months will be tough” as the cost of living squeeze intensifies.
Sunak, a former hedge fund manager, and his Indian heiress wife, Akshata Murty, were named on the Sunday Times rich list as the 222nd wealthiest people in the UK, with a combined £730m fortune.
Becoming the first frontline politician to be named in the annual ranking since its inception in 1989 is likely to increase pressure on Sunak to do more to help households struggling with inflation, which hit 9% in April, its highest level in 40 years, and soaring energy bills.
At a Confederation of British Industry dinner on Wednesday night, Sunak said: “There is no measure any government could take, no law we could pass, that can make these global forces disappear overnight. The next few months will be tough. But where we can act, we will.”
Sunak and Murty’s entry into the Sunday Times rich list follows the revelation last month that Murty had claimed non-dom status to legally not pay tax on annual dividends she receives from a £690m stake in the Indian IT company Infosys, founded by her billionaire father.
After mounting public outrage, Murty bowed to pressure to pay UK taxes, saying she realised many people felt her tax arrangements were not “compatible with my husband’s job as chancellor”.
The couple own a property portfolio of four homes worth an estimated £15m, including a £5m Santa Monica penthouse overlooking the beach where Baywatch was filmed.
Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, said it was “fantastic” news that Sunak had joined the rich list, and dismissed suggestions that his vast wealth meant he was out of touch with people’s day-to-day struggles to make ends meet.
“He’s a fantastic example of someone who’s been successful in business, who’s coming to make a big impact in public service,” Raab told Times Radio. “I think we want more of those people. I think it’s fantastic that you’ve got someone of British-Indian origin, showing all people in our country that you can get to the top of politics.
“And frankly, I think if I understood correctly, the Sunday Times rich list was a reflection of not just him but his wife. His wife is an incredibly successful entrepreneur in her own right.”
The UK now has a record 177 billionaires, up six on 2021. Their combined wealth is up 9.4% to a record £653bn.
George Dibbs, the head of the Centre for Economic Justice at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said the coronavirus pandemic had allowed already extremely wealthy people to increase their fortunes while the savings of the poorest people were wiped out.
“As we enter a once-in-a-generation cost of living crisis, the Sunday Times rich list shows us again that vast wealth often begets more wealth. That has proved particularly true during the pandemic, when the wealthiest accumulated more wealth than poorer people, who saved nothing,” he said. “Now there are more billionaires in the UK than ever before and the collective wealth of the richest has grown again.”
Dibbs called on Sunak to act fast to introduce taxes “redistributing the wealth gains of the richest to pay for higher social security benefits for those who most need them”.
Julia Davies, a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, a group of super-rich people calling for the introduction of a wealth tax, said the list showed an “obscene concentration of wealth while millions struggle with simply living.
“The fact that our chancellor now joins the ranks of the richest people in the UK – while he and the government refuse to consider taxing wealth over work – is a shocking insight into our political system. We have repeatedly asked the chancellor to raise taxes on us, the wealthiest people in society. His appearance on the rich list makes it very clear why he’s not listening.
“As the Bank of England warns of apocalyptic food price rises, 2 million people are skipping meals, and a third of people can’t afford the essentials. Meanwhile, the rich, as always, are sitting pretty. This disparity has to be fixed. It is political and economic negligence that our politicians are not focused on dealing with the extreme wealth gap at a time of national economic emergency.”
Sri and Gopi Hinduja were named the UK’s richest people, with an estimated £28.5bn fortune, the largest recorded in the 34 years of the rich list. The brothers who run a property-to-industrial conglomerate from London saw their wealth swell by £11.5bn over the past year to put them at the top of the annual wealth ranking ahead of the inventor Sir James Dyson, who is in second place with £23bn.
Sri, 86, and Gopi, 82, Hinduja and their extended family own a wide range of industrial and financial businesses and investments based mainly in the UK, India and Switzerland. They are currently transforming the Old War Office building in Whitehall into a Raffles hotel with 120 rooms, 11 restaurants and 85 serviced flats.
Luke Hildyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, a thinktank that focuses on excessive pay, said: “It’s not really efficient or sensible or necessary to run the economy in a way that enables people who are already incredibly wealthy to accumulate even more while much of the population is crushed by a cost of living crisis.
“With stagnating wages and miserable economic growth, it’s clear that sharing existing wealth more evenly is the most important political challenge of our time. That means taxing the super-rich more effectively and getting the companies they own and invest in to pay their workers more.”
Hildyard calculated that if total household wealth in Great Britain had increased at the same rate as the wealth of the Top 20 entrants on the rich list over the past decade, the average household would now have £205,000 more than they currently do.
The Top 10 richest people in the UK
Sri and Gopi Hinduja and family – £28.5bn
Sir James Dyson and family – £23bn
David and Simon Reuben and family – £22.3bn
Sir Leonard Blavatnik – £20bn
Guillaume Pousaz – £19.3bn
Lakshmi Mittal and family – £17bn
Christoph Henkel and family – £15bn
Guy, George, Alannah and Galen Weston and family – £13.5bn
Kirsten and Jorn Rausing £12bn
Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Michel de Carvalho – £11.4bn