Rising inequality: UK braces for strike action mid calls for taxing the rich

With a rising gap between the rich and the poor, the demand for imposing wealth tax is gaining momentum in the UK, as the number of billionaires has jumped 20 percent in the Covid pandemic.

The UK – which opted for Brexit to shun the European Union – has been witnessing a rising cost of living for the low income groups amid tax cut as well as reduced state expenditure for social services like NHS (National Health Service) under the Tory rule since 2010.

Hence, the UK is bracing for one of the most disruptive weeks of strike action in recent history after the government signalled its determination to face down the unions despite calls for pay negotiations from health leaders and some Conservative MPs.

As a result, nurses, ambulance workers, customs and immigration staff, postal and rail workers will all walk out in the coming days.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a mounting challenge in dealing with the strikes. Some Tory MPs have urged the government to reopen talks on nurses’ pay after health leaders warned that ongoing disruption within the NHS could jeopardise public safety.

Nurses’ union leaders have raised the pressure on Downing Street by threatening further walkouts next year.

A report prepared by the Equality Trust says interventions by governments and central banks during the pandemic allowed for an “explosion of billionaire wealth” in Britain at the expense of the rest of society, after fuelling a boom in property values and on the stock market.

With emergence of the global health emergency three years ago, the Bank of England and other big central banks around the world crashed interest rates to zero and pumped billions of pounds into financial markets through their quantitative easing bond-buying programmes.

Aimed at softening the edges of the worst recession in three centuries by supporting businesses, households and governments with lower borrowing costs, the report found the policies also helped inflate asset prices, helping to line the pockets of wealthy investors.

The Equality Trust said this had contributed to the number of UK billionaires increasing from 147 in 2020 to 177 this year, with the median billionaire now holding about £2 billion.

It also says that the number of billionaires in the UK had risen more than tenfold from 15 in 1990, when the Sunday Times first published its Rich List, after taking into account inflation over that time period.

Using inflation-adjusted wealth data from archive copies of the Rich List, it said the combined wealth of Britain’s billionaires had risen from £53.9 billion in 1990 to more than £653 billion in 2022 – an increase in billionaires’ wealth of over 1,000 percent over the past 32 years.

Tax equality campaigners claim the government could raise up to £37 billion to help pay for public services if it introduced a string of wealth taxes.

Tax Justice UK has called on the government to introduce five tax reforms targeting the very wealthy, who the campaign group said had done “really well financially” during the coronavirus crisis and national lockdowns, rather than seek to save money with further cuts to public services.

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