Posted by Sarah Dransfield Senior Press Officer 29th Oct 2014
Failure to tackle inequality will leave hundreds of millions trapped in poverty unnecessarily
Rising inequality could set the fight against poverty back by decades, Oxfam warned today as it published a new report showing that the number of billionaires worldwide has more than doubled since the financial crisis.
The report, Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality, details how the richest people in the world have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes while hundreds of millions live in abject poverty. The richest 85 people - who Oxfam revealed in January have the same wealth as the poorest half of the world's population - saw their collective wealth increase by $668 million every day over the last year. That's almost half a million dollars every minute.
Oxfam is calling on governments around the world to Even it Up by taking action to level the playing field by implementing policies that redistribute money and power to ensure the poor benefit more directly. Governments should follow a seven point plan to stem the rising tide of inequality - including clamping down on tax dodging and investing in universal, free health and education.
The report, endorsed by the Bank of England Chief Economist Andrew Haldane, Graça Machel, Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Nobel prize- winning economist Joseph Stiglitz among others, is the opening salvo of a new Oxfam campaign, also called Even it Up, to push world leaders to turn rhetoric into reality and close the gap between rich and poor.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam's Chief Executive, said: "Inequality is one of the defining problems of our age. In a world where hundreds of millions of people are living without access to clean drinking water and without enough food to feed their families, a small elite have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes.
"The consequences of extreme inequality are harmful to everyone - it robs millions of people of better life chances and fuels crime, corruption and even violent conflict. Put simply, it is holding back efforts to end poverty.
"Governments around the world have been guilty of a naive faith that wealth going to those at the top will automatically benefit everyone. That's not true - it is their responsibility to ensure the poorest are not left behind."
In addition to tackling tax dodging and investing in public services, Oxfam is calling on governments to:
- Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
- Agree a global goal to tackle inequality
- Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
- Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
- Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee.
Oxfam's report says that the number of billionaires in the world more than doubled to 1,645 between 2009 and 2014; evidence that whilst those at the top have recovered quickly from the financial crisis, the benefits of economic growth are not being shared with the vast majority.
As an illustration of the extent of extreme inequality in the world today, Oxfam calculated that if you were to tax billionaires just 1.5% of their wealth over $1bn it could raise $74bn a year, enough to fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and to deliver health services in the world's poorest countries. Since 2009, at least one million women have died in childbirth due to a lack of basic health services and around the world 57 million children are currently missing out on school.
There are 16 billionaires in Sub-Saharan Africa living alongside the 358 million people in extreme poverty, and in South Africa inequality is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid. If African countries continue on their current growth trajectory with no change in levels of income inequality, then it is estimated that the continent's poverty rate won't fall below 3 percent - the World Bank's definition of ending poverty - until 2075.
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