Corruption at Christmas

If you’re a couple whose annual income is £125,000 a year after tax, even if you have five children (three more than Iain Duncan Smith will allow a low-income family, one more than he has himself), you’re richer than 95% of the UK population.

If you have the kind of money that lets you spend £125,000 on one meal, you’re one of the super-rich. In the class war, you’ve won. Ben Spalding has a victory feast for you:

Costing £125,000 for four people, or £31,250 per person, the menu for what will be the world’s most expensive Christmas dinner menu has been devised by London chef Ben Spalding, who has completed residencies at restaurants including The Fat Duck in Bray, Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road and Per Se in New York.

In 2011, analysts at Credit Suisse found that 29,000 people globally – nearly all of them men – own net assets worth more than $100m. As Chrystia Freeland, author of Plutocrats and former editor of the Financial Times, discovered in researching her book about the global super-rich, they are different and they are almost all men, and if they are married

these women are managing the households of their wealthy husbands – often a complex task – and pursuing philanthropic ventures. Not many are doing a job of their own despite being highly-educated themselves. In 2005, according to the book, just over a quarter of taxpayers in the top 0.1pc had a working spouse.

Their role then, tends to be in the background and in the home, not around the boardroom table of their plutocrat husbands. Life among the very wealthiest, says Freeland, is a “real 1950s throwback”

From the Forbes billionaire list, in 2012, out of 1,226 billionaires, 104 were women – 8.4%. The vast majority of the 8.4% billonaire women are wives, daughters and widows of men who became billionaires.

One of the plutocrats Chrystia Freeland interviewed said it was “are not aggressive enough”: women do not “go for the jugular”, women “don’t have the killer instinct”. Like Alan Sugar and Donald Trump – who act like fighting fish in the Twitter aquarium.

“It’s certainly true that any woman, any mother of daughters, when you examine yourself, you will come up against the reality that our attitudes towards aggression in women are still very different,” Freeland says.

She counters that you do not need the “killer instinct” to be highly successful, but to amass a vast fortune, it’s “pretty self-evident that you’re not going to do that without extreme self-belief, extreme willingness to always keep on pushing…and an aptitude for taking the right risks. That does require a certain killer instinct.”

What does £125,000 buy you for Christmas dinner?

It’s a monstrous cheat, in a sense: an apéritif of vodka not from one of the world’s best vodkas (a litre of Kauffman’s luxury vintage vodka will set you back about £135) but from a vodka that has been filtered through diamond sand and will cost you £2000: not vintage Piper-Heidsieck champagne (average price £136) but a specific 1907 bottle that will cost them £37,000. Each item of food and drink has been deliberately chosen to be the most expensive possible.

It’s not really a cheat. The kind of person who would pay this kind of money isn’t really trying to have the most delicious Christmas meal ever: he is deliberately trying to spend as much as possible. If you merely wanted to eat a superlative turkey, you could pay £64.50 for a four-kilo free-range bird from an organic farm, including delivery: but if you want to show off how rich you are, you pay £500 for a rare breed of turkey, stuff it with £4,500 of Wagyu beef, and wrap it with £6,000 of edible gold leaf. (Not merely the usual 24-karat edible gold leaf, which would be pretentious enough: to show off how extra-rich the customer is, this meal uses 50-karat gold leaf for the turkey.)

Someone who just wanted a three-star meal might dine out at the Fat Duck or Gordon Ramsay and pay upwards of £1000 for a party of four. In a brief exchange with Ben Spalding on Twitter, he suggested I was naive to criticise this meal when most of his fee (but not, presumably, the cost of the over-priced ingredients) was going to charity:

The meal will be prepared by Ben Spalding and his team at the guests’ home – it seems safe to assume that whoever pays for the service will have enough space in their residence to accommodate them …. Spalding is donating 80 per cent of his fee to Cancer Research UK and Hospitality Action.

Cancer Research UK is one of the charities that was making use of the DWP’s workfare scheme to get unpaid workers for their shops until it was shamed out of doing so by the Boycott Workfare campaign. Hospitality Action is the Hospitality Industry Benevolent Organisation, which provides help “to all who work, or have worked within hospitality in the UK and who find themselves in crisis.”

The kind of person who could afford to spend £125,000 on a meal for four people is someone like Howard Schultz of Starbucks, net worth 1.5bn, who was paid $16M in 2011 – that’s just over ten million pounds at current exchange rates. (And when I say “just over”, I mean by £27,000, which is well above the average couple’s income in one year.) He also received a retention bonus of $12Mthat is, a present from Starbucks for not leaving his job, which brings his pay to £17.46M, plus stock options. For him, £125,000 on one meal would be the equivalent of someone earning £27,000 spending £140 on dinner for four.

Starbucks, famously, pays virtually no tax in the UK by shifting its internal finances about to ensure internal fees cancel out UK profits. When this came to light, Starbucks agreed to sit down with HMRC and “work out” a deal to pay more tax over the next couple of years, while simultaneously cutting staff benefits – including making the 30-minute lunchbreak unpaid time and not paying staff on the first day of sick leave. (Memo to self: avoid Starbucks during flu season – there’ll be a lot of their staff working when ill because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay.)

“It’s really convenient for them to say we’re going to pay more taxes, when they’re going to save money with us, the staff,” said the coffee shop worker on condition of anonymity. “It’s convenient saying we’ll pay more because they’re going to save more – and the perfect excuse for them is to say to staff ‘We’re going to pay more taxes, so…’.”

He said his manager explained Starbucks “is losing a lot of money in Europe, so they said they needed to make these changes to save the company money”.

Even apparently minor benefits are being cut. Starbucks is ending the practice of giving hampers to new mothers in favour of “a card and Starbucks baby grow and bib”. The new policy on staff birthdays orders: “Removal of birthday cards. Bakery good code to be issued in store for free birthday treat.” Congratulations cards on the anniversary of the first four years of service are being withdrawn.

That’s the kind of leadership that gets you seventeen million a year and the price of a cup of Kopi Luwak – coffee made from beans that have been picked out of civet crap, not the cheap pumpkin spice latte that Schultz sells to the plebs – at the end of a £125,000 Christmas dinner.

At the other end of the scale, from a woman on the Work Programme:

During the last half term I missed my sign on appointment due to the break in my normal routine/human error. This has lead to a four week sanction ( 16/11 – 13/12) being imposed where I can’t receive job seekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit or child tax credits nor a crisis loan.

I applied for a hardship payment that was granted 30th Nov (I care for my child and I am diagnosed with a mental health issue) but can’t be paid out until I sign on 13th Dec and money will be in account 18th December. I also appealed the sanction but was turned down.

Tonight is the 2nd night without gas and I have 3 pounds left on the emergency electric meter. The school run involves 2 buses and a 45 min journey and my oyster card ran out today.

The job centre advised that I contact social services who offered a twenty pound cash payment thay went on 2 daysworyh of bus pass (8.40), electricity (7 and the rest on dry food/toilet paper. That is all they can do unless I
voluntarily put my daughter up for temporary foster care.

Well, for one thing: that’s our money. This isn’t the result of wealth creation – it’s widely recognised that the only two UK billionaires who pay tax proportional to their income are James Dyson and J. K. Rowling. In 2010, when the average pay rise was barely above inflation, the richest thousand – the people who could afford to pay for this dinner – had their wealth

increase on average in 2010 alone by £60m. That was a 20% gain, following 25% the previous year.

In November, the revelation of the size of the increases enjoyed by chief executives of the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange triggered the most political anger.

The High Pay Commission reported that these executives’ total pay had risen by 49% during the previous year alone, compared with average increases of less than 3% for their employees.

Willard Foxton wrote six months ago:

the more money that leeches out of the state in avoidance, the more you have to pay. Britain’s most affluent determine where most of their earnings go, while we ordinary taxpayers often pour a much larger chunk of our cash into the communal pot. Nicholas Shaxon puts it brilliantly in his book, Treasure Islands: “Imagine you are in a supermarket and you see well-dressed individuals passing through a special checkout. There is also a large item added to your bill, extra expenses, which subsidises their purchases. Sorry, says the Supermarket manager, if we didn’t charge you more they would shop elsewhere. Now, pay up.”

Merry Christmas, everybody. Hope you enjoy the present we’re so kindly giving the people who aren’t paying their taxes.

gold leaf chocolate cake with red berries

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Filed under About Food, J. K. Rowling, Poverty, Restaurants, Starbucks, Tax Avoidance, Women

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