LONDON (Reuters) — The richest Britons are accumulating wealth three times as fast as the poorest, according to new official data likely to heighten concerns Britain is becoming an increasingly unequal society.
For the richest tenth of British households, total wealth including pensions increased by 21 per cent between 2012 and 2014. For the bottom half of all households, total wealth rose by just 7 per cent during that period, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
As in many other countries, inequality is a hot political topic in Britain, which is still feeling the effects from the 2008-09 recession, the worst in many decades.
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party points to record levels of employment and the fastest growth among developed economies as proof that living standards are improving across the country.
But opposition parties say the poorest are shouldering the biggest burden from government plans to eliminate the deficit, largely through big cuts to welfare spending.
Total household wealth rose 18 per cent to 11.1 trillion pounds (US$16.6 trillion) between 2012 and 2014, much of it driven through rising private pension holdings, the ONS said.
The figures showed the distribution of wealth was skewed sharply towards the richest, with the most affluent tenth of households controlling some 45 per cent of all wealth. The bottom tenth accounted for less than 1 per cent.
A separate survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development on Friday further emphasised the sense of worsening inequality among Britons.
Seven out of 10 British employees believe the pay of company chief executives is too high, the CIPD said, with most saying this demotivates them at work.
A concentration of wealth around London has long been a defining feature of Britain's economy, and the official wealth data showed little sign of that changing.
Households in London enjoyed the biggest rise in median household wealth, increasing 14 per cent between 2012 and 2014, followed closely by Scottish households where there was a big increase in pension wealth.
But it fell 7 per cent in the regions of Yorkshire and the Humber in northern England.
Finance minister George Osborne is seeking to boost infrastructure investment in northern England to generate economic growth more evenly across the country.
Underlining the scale of that challenge, the figures showed more than one in five households in southeast England have wealth amounting to more than 1 million pounds, in part thanks to rising property prices, compared with one in 50 households in the northeast.