Number of wealthy individuals in Britain surges

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The Independent Online

The super-rich have dramatically increased their wealth and there are more of them than ever, according to the latest CapGemini/Merrill Lynch World Wealth report.

The definitive guide found that the world's high-net-worth population - defined as individuals with net assets of at least $1m (£500,000), excluding their primary residence and consumables - now stands at 9.5 million. That is roughly the same size as the population of the Czech Republic.

In terms of growth, Singapore (21 per cent), India (20 per cent), Indonesia (16 per cent) and Russia (15 per cent) saw the biggest increase in wealthy individuals, consistent with their breakneck economic growth, although the number of Chinese rich rose by a comparatively egalitarian 7.8 per cent.

The UK's high-net-worth individual (HNWI) population grew 8.1 per cent, to 485,000 and this country is now home to 16.7 per cent of Europe's HNWIs. Globally, 800,000 people joined the "rich club", while the number of ultra-HNWIs - those with net assets of at least $30m - rose by 11.3 per cent to 94,970.

The report also found that the wealthy are getting richer, more quickly. The assets of HNWIs rose at an even faster rate than their numbers, and at the fastest rate for seven years.

Driven by a strong global economy, their wealth grew 11.4 per cent to $37.2trn in 2006. According to Merrill Lynch, they have been switching their wealth into property.

However, they are becoming more inclined to philanthropic giving. In total this equates to more than $285bn globally.

The survey also offers a few clues as to the tastes of the super-rich and their "investments of passion". These include luxury cars, boats, planes, jewellery, art, sports-related investments such as professional teams, sailing and racehorses; and other collectibles such as wines and antiques. Luxury collectibles took the lion's share (26 per cent) followed by art (20 per cent) and jewellery (18 per cent).

The bad news, for the plutocrats, is that they're just as prey to inflation as the rest of the world. The Forbes' Cost of Living Extremely Well Index (CLEWI) measures the cost of a basket of luxury goods and services. This includes designer handbags, watches, clothing, high-end spa services, tuition at Harvard University, a case of Dom Perignon, filet mignon and planes and yachts. In 2006, the cost of luxury goods rose nearly twice as fast as everyday consumer products, with the CLEWI rising 7 per cent while everyday consumer products, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose only 4 per cent. The report suggests economic growth will slow in 2007 as mature economies grow more moderately.

CapGemini/Merrill Lynch estimate that the super-rich will be worth a total of $51.6trn by 2011, with the Asia-Pacific region the pacemaker.

Recent official figures confirm the picture of an elite growing ever wealthier even in relative terms, and an elite centred in London. Data from Revenue & Customs show that the number of top earners (on £500,000-plus per annum) rose from 19,000 in 2003-04 to 30,000 now, with most living in the capital.