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British Indians dominate highest strata of society

Analysis of census data reveals the top group is made up largely of professionals and celebrities from US, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2004 11:13 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar (IANS)
Prasun Sonwalkar (IANS)

Guess who dominates the highest strata of British society? It is the foreigners who moved to Britain in the last decade, including wealthy Asians of Indian origin.

An analysis of the census data reveals that the top social group, A1, is made up largely of bankers, lawyers and celebrities from America, continental Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

They include Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, Barbara Cassani, the American businesswoman leading the London Olympic bid, and Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian steel tycoon.

A decade ago the 180,000 households that made up the highest social rank were overwhelmingly British-born businessmen, financiers, landowners and high-earning professionals.

These groups now find themselves increasingly outranked by a foreign elite who enjoy the highest incomes, outbid Britons for the most expensive homes and send their children to the best schools.

The study also found that about 700,000 wealthy Asians have moved from rundown inner-city areas to "upmarket" suburban areas.

The new elite is credited with helping fuel Britain's economic success over the past decade, investing billions in this country and creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.

Typically, the wealthy immigrants live in exclusive areas of west London and in Edinburgh and Bath.

The rise of the foreign rich has been uncovered by Experian, a credit checking and business services company that sells information to retailers and other firms.

Census data has been combined with credit information, surveys and company returns to classify Britain's social structure.

Philip Beresford, compiler of the annual Sunday Times Rich List, said the trend had become pronounced over the past few years.

"London is now the centre of the universe for many of the global super-rich," he said.

"They can do deals here, feel safe, commute easily to New York and Europe and pay less tax than in most countries. The rich list is becoming more and more dominated by foreign-born multi-millionaires. They bring enormous wealth to the country and have many beneficial spin-offs."

The new top group, representing about 0.7 percent of British households, are often single people in the 30s. They earn at least 100,000 pounds a year, but usually far more, live in flats worth 500,000 pounds or more, and regularly travel abroad.

More than half are foreign-born, including 16,000 American executives, 12,000 Arabs and 34,000 western Europeans. Hundreds of foreign singers, actors and footballers have also moved to Britain.

Said social commentator Peter York: "The high-level professions, bankers, lawyers, sports stars -- where the serious money is earned -- are rapidly globalising, and you can see the effects at any decent dinner party."

Jeff Holt, an Australian IT consultant earning a "healthy six-figure sum", moved to Notting Hill, west London, about three years ago. He has no plans to leave.

"London is the most cosmopolitan city I have lived in. I don't feel like a foreigner."

Richard Webber, a professor at University College, London, who worked on the Experian analysis, believes the study highlights a dramatic social change that may have begun when former prime minister Margaret Thatcher introduced reforms in the 1980s to encourage enterprise.

"Over the past 10 years this group has led Britain to become far more continental in its way of life," he said. "The liberalisation of the city and the removal of trade barriers means that London is now truly a global city."

First Published: Jan 28, 2004 10:56 IST