Without doubt wealth can buy you all sorts of things from a better home (or even a home in the first place) to educational and social advantages or a longer life. It may ultimately be neither possible nor desirable to achieve absolute equality in society, even if we could agree on what that means. But gross levels of inequality is now a major problem. I want to reflect on one area, the issue of being able to move around and live where you want. It is literally a matter of life and death
Recall the shocking images of the little six year old boy lying dead on a Turkish beach which briefly kindled the compassion of Europeans. Although happening only last year, it seems an eternity as terrorist hit western Europe hardened attitudes against both refugees and immigrants. But there is a simple fact that we in Britain must understand. The little boy died because he was poor. If his family were wealthy it is entirely possible that he may be still alive and living in the UK. He died because of inequality, simply a victim of the reality that poverty traps people geographically but wealth give you mobility.
That inequality traps the poor and not the rich works on many levels, within cities, within countries (try moving to London!) and internationally. Here is one way it operates. The Financial Times pointed out a few weeks ago, the taxpayer (even the ‘hard working families’ of Government folklore) actually subsidise the wealthy to move to Britain! As Sir David Metcalf of the Migration Advisory Committee pointed out the ‘golden visa’ system allows wealthy foreign nationals (mainly Russian and Chinese) to get a visa if they invest £2 million in British assets. Invest a further £10 million after 2 years and you can stay here permanently and they get to keep the interest on any Government guilts they buy i.e. we are paying for it). As expected there are companies such as this one to help you should you have the means to do do.
Since it was started in 2008 over 3000 golden visas have been issued and the numbers are growing. In the Wealth Report the property consultants Frank Knight estimated that between 2003 and 2013 114,000 ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ (HNWI) came to the UK which is easily the most popular destination for wealthy emigrants.
So the conclusion is that the poor get stopped at Calais or the Hungarian border while the wealthy just simply buy their way in. No paying your life savings to a merciless gang who abandon you on a boat in the Mediterranean. We welcome Russian and Chinese oligarchs but reject educated refugees from the Middle East. A familiar argument is that we should welcome the super-rich because of the wealth they bring to the UK economy. But, as articles such as this one point out there is no evidence that this is the case. We do know, however the effect on property prices in London and the south-east generally. This is without taking the wider aspects of citizenship into account, such as whether they contribute to their communities socially or politically.
There is another point where the Government is being disingenuous. David Cameron recently made a speech to Commonwealth Leaders about the importance of tackling corruption. Well, as Transparency International point out here the golden visa system has allowed £1.88Bn of Russian and Chinese currency to flow into the UK with almost no checks on its origin or legitimacy of the funds.
But recall once again the little boy on the Turkish beach and the UK Government’s strict limit on Syrian refugees. Bear in mind that it is simply a matter of money!