The Sunday Times Rich List, where we’re all invited to fawn over the wealthiest people in our midst, is normally published around this time each year. In normal times it’s a crass and insensitive “celebration” of obscene wealth that absolutely no-one asked for, ever. This year, if they decide to publish, it will rightly strike people as downright offensive - like holding an exclusive, five-course banquet for the super-rich in the middle of a food bank.
The coronavirus crisis has sharply focused people’s attentions on the real value of people’s contributions to our society. It is now clear to everyone that the real heroes are (the generally very poorly paid) health workers, care workers and all those running our emergency services - as well as those people doing truly essential jobs in supermarkets, pharmacies, and in logistics - from lorry drivers to warehouse staff and all points in between. Meanwhile, in sharp and almost painful contrast we have billionaires seeking bailouts, billionaires sacking people and billionaires saying idiotic things.
To say that the super-rich have not covered themselves in glory recently would be an understatement. The public appetite for celebrating the Rich List (which is still overly dominated by lucky heirs, rent-seekers and the tax-shy) may well be severely limited. In the current crisis the billionaires have proved themselves as useful as chocolate teapots and as relevant as ashtrays on motorbikes.
If they decide not to run the Rich List this year, then that will be a victory for restraint, taste and decency. It will also, more fundamentally, be a recognition that this shabby annual attempt to re-create the tacky heyday of the 1980s (the era of “greed is good”) is limping towards its fully-deserved end. It will be a firm signal that times are changing and that we are all tired of inequality and its attendant and tedious deification of the rich. Just as sections of the middle-classes are, via the challenges of the Universal Credit system, beginning to empathise more with those who have less, their feelings towards the very rich may well be hardening.
For those wondering how the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will play out, whether we move forward in a progressive manner with changed priorities and pro-social policies, or regress to the failures and injustices of the past, to “business as usual”, the decision whether to run (or not run) the Rich List this year could be a telling pointer.
Co-founder of The Equality Trust
This is a guest blog and the views of the author are not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.