THE PROBLEM WITH THE BILLIONAIRES IN LIGHT OF COVID-19

Everyone seems to be ignorant of the people who have billions and quite frankly I am growing tired of it. In my (perhaps controversial) opinion, billionaires should not exist – it should be an impossibility for someone to maintain that sort of wealth. Hear me out.

Typical responses when you talk about ‘billionaires’ somewhat seems to empathise with them:


“they’ve earnt their money” “they’ve worked hard for their money” “why should they be taxed on their money if they have earnt it?”


According to Forbes, there are 54 billionaires in the UK. And according to Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there are an estimated 14.3 million people living in poverty in the UK. Most people you know who may say these sorts of things are probably closer to the latter category than the former: like they say, you are one paycheque away from being homeless. Yet those who claim benefits often get a bad rep for ‘taking’ money from the state, while the similar problem coming from the billionaires is simply ignored.


Brief interlude so I can try and get across just how much a billion is: it would take roughly 11 days to count from 1 to 1 million. To count from 1 to 1 billion it would take roughly 32 years. This is how much money these people have.


To tackle the first assumption: have billionaires actually earnt all their money? Or have they exploited others to get it? Let’s take Jeff Bezos for example. He has a personal wealth of around $138 billion (this is different from the company wealth of Amazon, which stands at about $1.15 trillion).


We often think of these people like Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, as having a great, lucky idea that has warranted them so much wealth. Yet Amazon as a company elevates its wealth by not so great means and we know that it has not had a good track record: numerous allegations of deceitful business and work practices; banning unions; ripping off smaller business’s ideas; and not to mention the elephant in the room: tax dodging. If anyone can afford to pay taxes, its Amazon.


Let’s discuss this in light of the pandemic:


One of the UK billionaires, The Duke of Westminster, has donated £10 million to UK’s coronavirus relief effort. The majority of this money will support the NHS, through NHS Charities Together, to provide respite, rehabilitation and mental health assistance to NHS staff and their families.


This is great, right? Maybe not as heartfelt as would seem. Zarah Sultanah MP pointed out on Twitter:


“The Duke of Westminster inherited £9 billion when he was 25 years old. He paid no inheritance tax on most of that.

His donation is roughly equivalent to someone with £100 giving 10p.

Let's not rely on charity to fund the NHS.”


This is not too dissimilar to the response of Jeff Bezos: this week he donated $100 million to the charity food bank Feeding America – this is a mere 0.1% of his total wealth. I’d also like to take a moment to give an honourable mention to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who have publicly committed to the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to donate half their wealth to philanthropy. This is what we want to see!


As Zarah also pointed out one very odd effect of the pandemic has been the painting out of the NHS to be a charity – and this is DANGEROUS. The NHS is not a charity, whilst it is so heart touching to see all the campaigns to raise money for the NHS – it should not be our job! It is a state funded service. If the money is so desperately needed then tax the billionaires accordingly: if they were to offer a huge 50% of their wealth, they would still remain immensely wealthy. The NHS has been degraded to the point where it is relying on charitable donations. By slowly taking the onus off of the state to fully fund our health service will have its repercussions by degrading its state funding for ever more. If the NHS had been properly funded then nurses wouldn’t have to be making their PPE out of bin liners. I am not at all saying all this money that has been raised is not going to be put to good use, and I am not saying it won’t make positive change, and I am not saying that it hasn’t been a heart touching endeavour, I am just saying it shouldn’t of had to be raised.


People die in poverty every day, food banks exist when no one should be in a position where they can’t afford food – the economic response to the coronavirus shows that money can come from somewhere if it is desperately needed, and I think it has been desperately needed for a while.


When you really think about it: every charity is a failure of the state to fund what is needed. Some of that failure comes down to the fact that the money is sitting in the pocket of billionaires.

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