Activism

These millionaires want to be taxed more. Here’s why

Ahead of Jeremy Hunt’s spring budget, a group of millionaires are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy

Dale Vince, Patriotic Millionaires

Dale Vince, part of a group of UK millionaires calling for a higher tax on the rich. Image: Patriotic Millionaires UK

How much money does Dale Vince have? “Right now, in my bank, there are a few hundred thousand pounds, rapidly diminishing as I give it away,” he says.

Vince is an eco-entrepreneur who owns the energy firm Ecotricity and is the chairman of League One side Forest Green Rovers, the world’s first vegan football club. He’s a millionaire, and has been in the headlines for donating to both Keir Starmer and Just Stop Oil

Half of his hair is shaved, and he sits in front of a green version of the Union Jack as he explains why he wants to be taxed more.

He adds: “My money is a funny concept. I own a company that’s reckoned to be worth a lot of money, so I’m reckoned to be rich.”

Ahead of Jeremy Hunt’s “back to work” spring budget, he’s one of a group of around 30 UK millionaires who want to be less rich. The Patriotic Millionaires, as they call themselves, are calling for a wealth tax which they say will raise £50 billion, including a 1-2 per cent levy on assets over £10 million.

Inspired by an existing group in the US, which was founded in 2010, Patriotic Millionaires UK has been gathering momentum since 2021. It aims to work in the media – making hay from its eye-catching idea of the rich wanting to be slightly less rich – as well as lobbying politicians and working with other campaign groups.

Vince received a tap on the shoulder after Christmas, then attended a “a big old Zoom to kick off, which is the modern way”.

Millionaires wanting to give their money away. Rich people pushing for a fairer world. It’s nice. So is it a guilt thing?

“I haven’t made my money off the backs of other people, right? If I was the boss of Amazon, I might be driven by guilt, maybe even a little bit of shame,” Vince says.

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In fact, he simply says: “The cause is right, frankly”, and talks about how we have a tax system “written by rich people for rich people”, which punishes the poorest and rewards the financially nimble elite.

“We make people on the lowest incomes so poor they need benefits. How does that make any sense? And then we stick them through a soul crushing benefits system that strips them of dignity,” he adds.

“When you have millions of people denied opportunity, it’s actually bad for the country”.

As a high profile political donor, Vince is also an example of rich people using their money the way they want, supporting causes they see as righteous. Surely tax takes this decision out of his hands?

“Why should it be elective, right? People down at the bottom of the income scale, they don’t choose what rate of tax they pay,” he says.

“Rich people will still be very rich and they can still give money to charity if they want, but we can’t substitute fair tax for charity. That doesn’t work.”

The idea of a wealth tax has long been bandied around in British politics, with the cost of living crisis and pandemic sharpening minds around inequality.

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In the UK, billionaires hold over £653 billion in wealth, according to research by the Equality Trust, who found billionaire wealth has increased tenfold since 1990.

Among Patriotic Millionaires’ ideas to subtly tip the scales are an end to inheritance tax loopholes, and a shake-up of non-dom status.

The current government, needless to say, are not fans of the idea, stressing the UK “is among the top of the G7 countries for wealth taxes as a percentage of total wealth” and that anybody who wants to pay more tax can do so of their own accord.

This idea doesn’t wash with Kristina Johansson, whose family business in Swedish real estate has made her an inherited millionaire.

Kristina Johansson, who has been gifted £5 million. Image: Supplied

“It doesn’t work if just a couple of us patriotic millionaires just send a cheque to HMRC. That’s not going to change the system,” she says.

A founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, Johansson says: “I’ve currently been gifted £5 million but will continue to be gifted more over time.”

Having been involved in social movements, climate activism, and protest movements, she talks of working through “my shame around my class privilege, and knowing that there’s so much inequality in the world.”

Part of why the idea of “Patriotic Millionaires” naturally jars is a sentiment in politics that self-interest is the natural way of things.

 “People expect that wealthy people don’t want to pay tax and that you can’t change the tax system because xyz reason, they’ll stop investing, they’ll leave,” says Johansson.

“We wanted to say that’s absolutely not true.”

Read more of the Big Issue’s coverage of the Spring Budget 2023:

A system run on charity and philanthropy – where millionaires and billionaires siphon money to favoured causes – instead of an equitable tax system is a recipe for disaster, she argues.

 “We can’t leave it to a few rich people to decide what problems our society tackles and how and what public services look like.

“It will really give a skewed amount of power to very few individuals that are not democratically held to account. I see it in the US – we don’t want to go in that direction”.

Do you have lived experience or burning opinions to share about this story? We want to hear from you. And we want to share your views with more people. Get in touch and tell us more.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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