By 2000 there'll be 200,000 millionaires

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The Independent Online
Britain will have 200,000 millionaires by the millennium - double the number there were in 1996 - if current trends continue.

This astonishing total, equivalent to the population of a city the size of Southampton, comes on the back of a financial and property boom and spells profound changes for the country's social structure.

While politicians from the two main political parties will claim credit for the overall rise in wealth - Labour as the party in power and the Tories for having put the economic foundations in place - the soaring number of millionaires could signal enormous problems ahead as the divide between the haves and have nots increases.

Some commentators will seize on the fact that this increase will happen during the tenure of a Labour government as proof that the party is devoting too much attention to rewarding those at the top of society and not doing enough for those at the bottom.

A study by the influential management consultancy group Datamonitor suggests that there are now around 120,000 millionaires in the UK, or one out of every 480 people, a 30 per cent increase from the mid-1996 figure of 90,000. But, experts agree, the current total is expected to rise rapidly over the next three years.

Mark Thorne, who publishes Wealth Watch, a magazine which focuses on rich investors, believes that by the millennium there will be well over 200,000 millionaires throughout the UK.

A strong stock market and rising house and land prices are the major factors forcing the millionaires' curve sharply upwards. Inflation is also playing a part by making the previously unattainable million an easier target for wealthy middle-class families to reach.

Millionaire status, formerly the preserve of those with inherited wealth or industrialists and business tycoons, is now more accessible to a generation whose parents could only dream of being worth seven figure sums.

Among those swelling the ranks of new millionaires are professionals who previously would have been one step - or more - down from the normal top bracket earners. They include lawyers and accountants in some of the top city firms whose salaries are starting to catch up with those of other more traditionally well-paid city jobs such as stockbrokers. (None of them, however, can seriously hope to match the salary of investment manager Nicholas Roditi, whose pay increased this year by pounds 500,000 per week, bringing it to pounds 80m per year.)

Dominic Egan, deputy editor of Legal Business Magazine said lawyers previously held themselves outside the business world but are now becoming more involved. "You might well be justified in saying that the legal profession is going to be the next to start producing millionaires."

There are probably around a dozen barristers at the top of their profession who are taking home pay packets of more than pounds 1m - some of them leading left-wingers and defenders of civil liberties such as QCs Anthony Scrivener and Geoffrey Robertson - while many senior partners in City solicitors' firms are following close behind with around pounds 800,000 per year.

A second tier of lawyers, one step down from senior QCs and partners, will be earning lower amounts but sums that are substantial enough to take them into the millionaire bracket when the value of their property is taken into account.

Also joining the professionals are an increasing number of elderly people who have benefited from the property boom, shrewd saving and investment, along with the more obvious candidates to the millionaires' club such as sport and music stars.

Fears that a Labour government would increase taxes prompted pre-election sales of stocks and shares earlier this year, which in turn created many millionaires, but a lot of those who supported Labour had already made their money before then. People such as Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United (salary pounds 500,000 a year, plus bonuses), Gerry Robinson, chairman of the Granada group and Waheed Alli, a joint director of television company Planet 24, all supported Labour in the run-up to the election.

Mr Thorne said: "It's increasingly becoming fairly well-to-do families investing their money cannily. AB earners are only the tip of the iceberg. There is a knock-on effect from share dealings of families who have lots of smaller investments, and that's a way their wealth will increase."

Ian Harcus, manager of UK financial services for Datamonitor, agrees. He said: "Millionaire status comes in sight of wealthy middle-class families now because being a millionaire is not what it was in the 1920s. Inflation has eroded the value of one million pounds.

"If you compare what the pound buys you now with what it could have bought you in the Seventies, which was probably 20 times more, then in terms of actual real wealth it has become 20 times easier to become a millionaire."

Adding to the ease are the National Lottery which has created 390 millionaires (not including any of last night's potential winners), Littlewoods Pools who are waiting to notch up their 100th winner, and Ernie, thePremium Bonds computer, who picked his 41st pounds 1m winner on Friday.