Opinion  

Peeking up the skirts of the rich tells us nothing

Ashley Wassall

I bet you read the Sundays Times’ Rich List, didn’t you? And I bet you were secretly really pleased, or envious, or both.

The Sunday Times’ Rich List is the annual up-skirt look at the secret places of the rich, their bank accounts and other wealth stashes, to see whose is bigger than whose. All very illicit - and boy does it shift a few newspapers.

Judging by the fact that at this time every year derivative stories appear across the trade press - in fact leading the news on two of our rivals as we speak - I’m guessing viewer statistics prove you are interested, too.

In our sector it’s usually about the founders of Hargreaves Lansdown. This year Peter Hargreaves is apparently about £500m down due to the drop in share price of his firm sending him 10 places down on the list; his partner Stephen Lansdown was down about £100m.

I’m guessing for the advisers that don’t like Hargreaves and its do-it-yourself discount model this offers some pleasing schadenfreude. But then they are both still billionaires, which would engender feelings of injustice. Or something.

Maybe none of this matters. Maybe how much money Mr Hargreaves has will have no bearing on the future of advice, or any of our personal lives.

In fact, why do we care how much money any of these people have? Apparently they’ve all got a lot richer this year, mainly because stock markets rose sharply. In other years they might be less rich, because stock markets have fallen. The world keeps turning.

I care if rich people pay their tax. And apparently most do.

“The top 0.05 per cent richest, which includes everyone on the Rich List and others, pay 14 per cent of all income tax - £23.3bn, almost double the figure 10 years ago. Stamp duty receipts on homes worth more than £2m bought and sold each year are at least £1bn,” the Sunday Times states.

I want our society to improve standards for its poorest, of which there is nothing in these articles - or of substance in the election campaign, except competing figures which have added little to the sum of human knowledge.

I don’t care how many fast cars or big houses someone can afford. Good for them.

The most interesting aspect of the Hargreaves wealth drop is that the share price fell so dramatically last year, as we reported in August when it had fallen from a post-RDR peak of 1,581p per share in January 2013 to 1,050p. It has since recovered only marginally to 1,167p at the time of writing.

This shows the Hargreaves bubble, which was being so enthusiastically inflated by all and sundry after the advice rule changes, has not grown to the degree some expected over the last two years.

Today everyone is instead just peeking into the private places of other people, rather than engaging in much more meaningful debate.