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04 May 2012

Rich lists and ill manors

Rich lists and ill manors

I’ve worked it out and I’m the 513,219,541th richest person in the world. The fact that I fall into the top 10 per cent of wealthiest people around our globe is more shocking to me than the affluence revealed in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List.

Lakshmi Mittal and his family top the roll for the eighth year in a row. They are now worth a staggering £12.7 billion. The combined wealth of the 1,000 richest coming in at £414 billion is up five per cent on last year. In these days of austerity, with many struggling financially, and the lowest-paid seeing their comparatively miniscule salaries drop in real terms, the rich are still getting richer. It is the gulf between rich and poor that is most disturbing; your average dinner lady earns £7 an hour.

Despite my own status among the world’s wealthiest, am I a touch jealous? Probably. A little. What I could do in Topshop with just a few grand. What about a Caribbean holiday to escape this rain, a car, a Pashley bicycle, my own house...I could go on.

Equally interesting is the list of top 150 givers. I was surprised to find the artist, David Hockney as our most generous philanthropist. The 100 benefactors who give away at least one per cent of their wealth are highly praised. Although this is peanuts in comparison to Bill Gates who encouraged 40 billionaires to donate half of their fortune to charity, with Gates himself aiming to give away 95 per cent of his wealth.

I wonder who would feature in God’s rich list? Or why The Times don’t do a list of the 1,000 poorest people in our nation? I suppose those people would be harder to find. Who wants to celebrate poverty?

In his protest song, Ill Manors, Plan B highlights our misconceptions of those who live on council estates:

“He's got a hoodie on give him a hug,
on second thoughts don't, you don't wanna get mugged”.

He also rages at the disparity between rich and poor, asking:

“Who closed down the community centre?
I kill time there used to be a member,
what will I do now until September?”

He predicts another round of summer riots if we don’t start to address this growing gap.

The question, ultimately, has to be what am I going to do about it? Firstly, I need to recognise my own abundant wealth both in physical and spiritual terms. I am blessed and have plenty to share with others. Fact.

I also must come to terms with my own poverty. In what ways am I poor? I’m poor in generosity and grace when I fail to acknowledge that everything I have comes from the Creator. 

By aligning ourselves with those we call rich and those we call poor, we will learn much and may even be transformed in the process.

Next week, I’m taking up the Live Below the Line challenge to feed myself on £1 a day, joining with millions of people worldwide daily living on this amount. In all honesty, I’m dreading it. When Jesus meets the rich young ruler he understands the magnitude of the task of giving up our wealth. Yet he responds by offering some profound and enduring words, which in these times of crisis we can cling to: “All things are possible with God.”

With God we can give up some of our money to help others, restrain from buying that extra gadget/car/outfit/ (fill in the blank), campaign for a fairer tax system, hug a hoodie and feast on everything we have been given.

With God we can lessen the inexcusable gap between rich and poor.

Katherine Maxwell–Cook, Multimedia Co-ordinator & Writer, Evangelical Alliance