George Osborne might insist that "we are all in this together", but it looks like the super-rich did not get the memo. While the rest of the nation embraces a new age of austerity, the wealthy are snapping up status symbols such as yachts, multi-million pound artworks, private jets and jewels with renewed vigour.
A report published last week found that spending of high net worth individuals – those who have financial assets, not including their home, of more than £500,000 – on luxury collectibles such as cars, boats and jets; sports teams and racehorses, and jewellery and gems has increased. The author of this study, the World Wealth Report 2010, published by Capgemini-Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, pointed out that such "status symbol" purchases allowed people to flaunt their wealth.
Just last week the world's wealthy were splashing the cash at London auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's. Works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Magritte fetched £152.5m at Christie's, while more than £112m was spent at Sotheby's.
"There are probably some people who want to say 'look how rich I am'," said Josh Spero, senior editor at Spear's magazine, which is popular with investors and wealthy individuals.
He said this attitude is not typical of UK millionaires, but more popular among the wealthy in China and Latin America: "Most wealthy people I know are more concerned about maintaining their privacy than about flaunting it. And a lot of people in the UK are still clipping their wings."
His argument is supported by a Barclays Wealth survey of 2,000 high net worth individuals earlier this year, which found that conspicuous consumption was not on the rise in the West: "The concept of wealth commanding respect seems to be diminishing in Europe, whilst in Asia Pacific and Latin America it is considered very important."
While British millionaires remain keen to splash out on expensive toys, they are also putting their money to more altruistic uses. While wealthy individuals in the US gave a smaller proportion of their assets to charity in 2009 than 2008, the donations of European high net worth individuals grew.