The Covid-19 crisis has hammered the finances of households across the UK.
But according to a report, the rich are getting even richer – with Britain’s billionaires seeing their wealth soar by more than a third over the past year.
Swiss bank UBS says the combined wealth of the world’s billionaires has topped $10trillion (£7.7trillion) for the first time, as tech titans such as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos prosper from the pandemic.
Sir James Dyson’s (left) fortune grew by £3.6bn in a year to £16.2bn, while Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s (right) stake in the online marketplace has shot up in value by 83% to £178bn in a year
But super-rich Brits have also seen their fortunes swell in size.
Britain’s billionaires had amassed a combined fortune of £156.6billion at the end of July, according to the annual Billionaires Insights Report from UBS. This is up 34.7 per cent from £116.6billion the previous year.
The number of UK tycoons with more than $1billion (£772million) to their name jumped from 46 to 53.
Entrepreneurs behind major tech companies, healthcare firms and certain industrial sectors have done well from the pandemic.
Home working has ramped up the value of tech firms, the virus has renewed investment in healthcare, and industrial companies which have adapted to use cutting-edge techniques and more efficient technology have prospered.
UBS did not reveal which billionaires have boosted their wealth the most. But they are likely to include Sir James Dyson, owner of the vacuum cleaner empire, who is top of this year’s Sunday Times Rich List – his fortune grew by £3.6billion in a year to £16.2billion.
Josef Stadler, at UBS’s global family office, said those quick to develop or use new technology have ‘the potential to reshape the global economy and create tens or even hundreds of thousands of jobs as the world rebuilds’.
Despite the rise in billionaires’ wealth, still only 16 per cent of the UK’s ultra-wealthy are women.
This is more than the 13 per cent in the US, but far fewer than the 50 per cent in Australia or the 39 per cent figure in the Netherlands.
Across the world, billionaires’ wealth hit a record high of $10.2trillion, up from $7.9trillion a year earlier. And there are now 2,189 billionaires, up from 2,058.
Most of the rise was due to the resilience of tech and ecommerce businesses. Lockdown restrictions accelerated the switch to online shopping, and ecommerce firms saw sales shoot up. Even as shops reopen, many customers have changed their habits.
This has played into the hands of billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon and the world’s richest man, whose stake in the online marketplace has shot up in value by 83 per cent to £178billion in a year.
But Stadler said the overall rise hid a ‘dramatic polarisation of fortunes within billionaires’.
While entrepreneurs behind major tech companies and cutting-edge industrials got richer at a rate of knots, the ‘traditional’ billionaires with family money or exposure to dying industries have found it harder to chase success.
UBS’s report said: ‘We have seen before how a cohort of billionaire innovators and disruptors, active in tech, healthcare and industry, have contributed to reshaping the economy.
‘Covid-19 accelerated this trend dramatically. By demonstrating the value of the digital world they helped to create, they were able to decisively pull ahead of the pack.’
One Italian billionaire told the bank: ‘This Covid-19 crisis could be the real border between the old and the new economy. This may give the opportunity to create a better economic environment focusing on sustainable growth and efficiency with less bureaucracy and procedures.’
Several entrepreneurs, including Dyson and British industrial tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe, have donated some of their wealth to fighting the pandemic.
Dyson vowed to stump up the £20million his company spent on making ventilators himself, while Ratcliffe promised to donate millions of bottles of free hand sanitiser to the NHS.
But UBS found that only nine of the UK’s billionaires had donated a total of $297.5million (£226million) to coronavirus causes.
Luke Hildyard, the director of the High Pay Centre, said: ‘Billionaire wealth doesn’t come from nowhere.
‘The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how much we depend on each other.
‘Tech and healthcare entrepreneurs have clearly seen their fortunes increase because of the highly unusual circumstances, rather than their own hard work or innovation.
‘We need to think about business reforms and more effective taxation to ensure wealth is distributed fairly and more proportionately.’