Press Releases

Britain’s real top earner is property, new research shows

Millions still struggle to make ends meet in poor quality, high cost housing

  • Over a quarter of the 100 richest people in the UK are gaining their wealth from property, according to analysis of the Sunday Times Rich List
  • Property is by far the biggest source of wealth for Britain’s richest people, dwarfing finance, investment, retail and industry
  • New Economics Foundation sets out agenda to give people more control over Britain’s broken property and land market

Property is by far the biggest source of wealth for the richest people in Britain, according to analysis [2] of the Sunday Times Rich List by the New Economics Foundation.

A full 26 of the 100 wealthiest people in the country have property listed as a primary source of wealth, compared to just 10 in finance, 10 in investment, 7 in retailing and 6 in industry. And the combined wealth of those 26 property moguls amounts to over £92 billion.

The total wealth of the 164 property moguls in the top 1000 is £143.7 billion. While there are 101 people in the top 1000 with finance’ listed as a source of wealth — the nearest competitor to property’ — their combined riches amount to less than half of their property rivals, just £65.2 billion.

Table 2: Comparable sources of wealth (value of their total wealth in billions)

The amount of wealth tied up in land and property has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Today the value of property in the UK stands at over £5 trillion – nearly 60% of the UK’s entire net wealth – up from just a little over £1 trillion in 1995 [3].

The usual explanation of wealth accumulation is that it comes from innovation, entrepreneurialism and productive investment. But in the UK, most of the increase in wealth in recent decades has come from rising land values. This has contributed directly to a crisis in housing, deepening inequality, poor prospects for sustainable growth, intergenerational conflict, low productivity and financial instability.

The New Economics Foundation is calling for a fresh approach to tackling Britain’s broken property and land market. In How to Fix the Housing Crisis: Take Land Seriously, published today [4], the think-tank sets out 16 recommendations including:

  • Halt the public land sale, instead retaining land for public or community ownership and the development of homes suitable to community needs
  • Strengthen compulsory purchase powers allowing councils to acquire land at closer to the existing value and retain land value rises for public benefit
  • Establish a public land bank responsible for purchasing, developing and leasing land for residential and commercial use

Alice Martin, Housing Lead at the New Economics Foundation, said:

The British property market is making a few people very, very rich. But it is also leaving millions at the mercy of a dysfunctional market, with little or no influence over where they get to live.

Property moguls benefit directly from public investment in infrastructure and services. That means we are all paying taxes to increase the value of their land. Meanwhile, home ownership is at its lowest levels since the 1980s, over 70,000 households are in temporary accommodation — and the government is propping up this broken market to the tune of £20 billion a year in housing benefit [5].

If we are ever going to tackle Britain’s housing crisis, we need to take the role of land seriously. The time to act is now.”

Marc Stears, Chief Executive at the New Economics Foundation, said:

The election campaign has already seen pledge after pledge on income tax, VAT and national insurance. But none of these measures will come close to tackling the real issue, as highlighted by the weekend’s Rich List — huge amounts of concentrated wealth, tied up in land and property.”

This is the root cause of escalating inequality in Britain. A handful of wealthy moguls have been able to hoard and directly benefit from vast swathes of land, while millions struggle to make ends meet in poor quality, high cost housing.

It’s time we took real control over our land with a new public land bank and increased powers for local communities.”

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** Spokespeople available for interview **

Notes to editors

1. The New Economics Foundation is the UK’s only people-powered think tank. The Foundation works to build a new economy where people really take control. 

2. All data is drawn from the Sunday Times Rich List 2017

3. Source: Office for National Statistics, The UK National Balance Sheet: 2016 estimates

4. Read NEF’s new policy briefing, How to Fix the Housing Crisis: Take Land Seriously

5. Sources for statistics on the scale of the housing crisis: 1, 2, 3

6. The New Economics Foundation is campaigning to help more communities have a say over land use and housing in their area. Find out more

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