The Rich Just Keep On Getting Richer

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the world economy, billionaire families are making just as much money as ever.
July 16, 2020, 12:09pm
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Photo: Blackday

New research has revealed that, despite the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the world's super-wealthy have continued to get wealthier.

The Swiss bank UBS surveyed the family offices of 121 families whose average fortune is £1.25 billion ($1.6 billion) – making them some of the richest in the world – and found that 77 percent had seen their investment portfolios "perform in line with, or above, targets during one of the most volatile moments in the history of financial markets", reports The Guardian.

Family offices are private wealth management firms that work with ultra-high net worth individuals and families to grow and preserve wealth across generations. The head of UBS's ultra-high net worth unit, Josef Stadler, said the super wealthy have continued to thrive financially during a time that has seen rapidly increasing unemployment across the world because they have enough money to "embrace and manage risk like no other investor".

In early June, a report from the Institute for Policy Studies revealed that six billionaires – including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan – have seen their net worths increase by more than $2 billion each since March, when lockdowns were imposed across the globe. That figure is the same amount pledged by the British government as a rescue package for the arts.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, income inequality has continued to rise: while the super wealthy make even more money, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, "Households in the poorest fifth – as measured by their pre-crisis income – have been hit hardest in terms of earnings, with a fall in their median household earnings of around 15 percent (or around £160 per month)." In the US, a report found that the pandemic has further widened America's already huge racial wealth gap.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director at The Equality Trust, told VICE News: "COVID-19 has laid bare the true extent to which the economic system is rigged in favour of the rich and how the poorest are suffering the most. But we also need to look at the impacts of such extreme inequality on the whole of society. In countries with high levels of inequality, we also see higher levels of poor mental and physical health, obesity, violence and incarceration, as well as lower levels of educational attainment and trust."

This inequality can be seen in the effects of the virus itself: in the UK, Office for National Statistics analysis showed that those living in more deprived areas of England and Wales are more likely to die of COVID-19 than those living in more affluent areas. The ONS study found that the mortality rate was 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population in the most deprived areas of the UK, and 25.3 deaths per 100,000 in the least deprived areas.

On Monday, a group of 83 wealthy individuals – including film director Richard Curtis and Disney heir Abigail Disney – called on global governments to increase taxes on them and other members of the super rich to help aid the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.