‘I want to be
part of the solution’

Millionaire Jen Perry believes she should pay more taxes – and that she isn’t the only wealthy person to think like this

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While the majority of people in Britain are struggling to feed their families and heat their homes, there is a small percentage of wealthy individuals who keep getting richer as the poor get poorer. But some of them don’t want to.

Patriotic Millionaires UK wants to leverage the voice of the wealthy to build a more just, stable and inclusive economy. And it wants to do it through the tax system.

Jen Perry grew up in Durham with her father, a social worker, and mother, a teacher. Her childhood was modest, living in a terraced house and attending a local school, with enough money to feel comfortable but never extravagant.

After studying for four years at Edinburgh University, she worked in a variety of sectors – television, charities and corporate social responsibility. In the early 2000s, together with her husband James, she became involved in an early-stage family business called Cook, which makes ready-made frozen meals.

Perry and her husband took a substantial financial risk and the business thrived commercially, bringing in lots of revenue for the family. But it’s profit she doesn’t want to hoard as the country spirals into a cost-of-living crisis. Perry, along with others in the Patriotic Millionaires UK group, wants her wealth to be taxed more.

“I feel so frustrated about the injustice,” said Perry about the cost-of-living crisis. “And confused about why we aren’t acting on this – why we aren’t changing this now so that people can flourish.”

In the UK, the wealthiest 10 per cent of households hold 43 per cent of all the wealth. The bottom 50 per cent hold only 9 per cent. The richest 1 per cent of households have wealth of more than £3.6 million each, while the 10 per cent least wealthy had £15,400 or less.

In a May poll commissioned by Patriotic Millionaires UK, the majority of respondents agreed that extreme wealth in the hands of a few is bad for the country and a threat to democracy.

“It’s obvious here that the British public see the dangers of concentrated, extreme wealth more clearly than those with power,” Julia Davies, founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, said in response to the poll. “Wealth in the hands of a few people is not a solution to the economic impacts of inequality nor is it a useful deployment of resources in this cost-of-living crisis.”

Davies made her money by selling her stake in backpack and travel bag company Osprey Europe and investing in environmental businesses. Patriotic Millionaires UK boasts 30 or so such members, including City trader turned economist Gary Stevenson and Gemma McGough, who started working at 16 and made millions from her wireless technology start-up. The group is an offshoot of the US movement that started in 2010 to demand an end to the Bush era tax cuts for millionaires. In Austria and Germany, Taxmenow is a similar network of wealthy activists calling for tax justice.

In an open letter to international governments and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a group of 100 millionaires and billionaires affiliated to the groups said that the current tax system isn’t fair.

“While the world has gone through an immense amount of suffering in the last two years, we have actually seen our wealth rise during the pandemic – yet few, if any of us can honestly say that we pay our fair share in taxes,” the letter read.

To fix the unjust tax system that seems to give to the rich and rob from the poor, Perry and other Patriotic Millionaires in the UK are practically begging MPs to tax their large wealth more for the good of society. However, there hasn’t been any action in response to their requests. Politicians of all hues believe that promising to raise direct taxes can lose them votes – with some justification since the 1992 general election, when the electorate told pollsters they approved of Labour’s proposed tax rises but appeared to vote against them.

“But this is changing,” says Rebecca Gowland, international director of Patriotic Millionaires. On 14 June, a parliamentary debate on the need for new wealth taxes featured Mel Stride, Conservative MP and former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, stating: “There has to be a limit to the amount of wealth that can be accumulated by a small number of individuals.”

Progress may be slow, but Patriotic Millionaires UK says things are moving forward as they help people see the accumulation of wealth is not a good thing – that resources should be used more effectively for all people in the UK.

“There is an opportunity here to create a better society,” says Perry. “We do have wealth and we do want more taxes. There are so many voices – people with and without wealth – saying to do this, that they welcome it. The tax system is rigged in favour of the wealthy and we think this should change.”

Patriotic Millionaires UK has lobbied for wealth taxes as a preferred option but other policies could have an impact as well, its members believe.

“I think we are a way off from wealth taxes, but I don’t think it is impossible,” says Gowland. “We are closer with other approaches, like the equalisation of capital gains tax with income tax.”

To those who say the wealthy can simply choose to give their money away, that the US has a strong philanthropic tradition precisely because its taxes are low, Perry says this once again puts rich people in power. Instead, a total overhaul is needed.

“We need to change the whole system and tax law.”

Analysis by the Fight Inequality Alliance said a wealth tax starting at 2 per cent annually for the world’s millionaires, rising to 5 per cent annually for billionaires, could generate up to $2.52 trillion (£2.11 trillion) a year. The income generated from the tax would lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for the 3.6 billion people living in low and lower-middle income countries.

Translated to the UK, Davies says Patriotic Millionaires UK estimates that if the richest 1 per cent of households (those with wealth of more than £3.6 million) paid a 2 per cent tax on the wealth they had above £3.6 million, the government would generate an extra £43.71 billion a year.

“That revenue could cover the National Insurance rise twice over,” she wrote on Mailplus.co.uk earlier this year. “We could increase Universal Credit permanently and help struggling families pay for their additional energy needs through decent support, rather than with loans they will have to pay back. We could hire more nurses, retrofit our nation’s draughty homes and build affordable houses. Our country could have what it needed, instead of economic slim pickings.”

As the cost of living crisis exposes inequality still further, Perry is hopeful the public outcry will drive change.

“These are chains stopping everyone from thriving,” says Perry. “We’ve been walking with shackles, but we’re started to cut these off. There is an opportunity here. Let’s ditch these shackles and create something that works for everyone. Let’s have systems that allow everyone to flourish – systems that create wealth for everyone.”

She emphasises she is not the only high net worth individual to think like this.

“I have a choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution,” Perry says. “And I just really want to be part of the solution.”

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