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 ever spend, while hundreds of millions live in abject poverty without essential health care or basic education.
Oxfam is calling on G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane next month to put inequality squarely on the agenda. Rising inequality is a critical issue not only affecting the poorest nations, but almost all G20 countries.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said that in countries around the world, prosperity was not trickling down to ordinary people, but instead was flowing up to those at the top, whose exceptional wealth was growing ever more rapidly.
She said the richest 85 people – who Oxfam revealed in January as having the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population – saw their collective wealth increase by US $668 million per day between 2013 and 2014. That’s almost half a million dollars every minute.
“From the IMF to the Pope, from President Obama to the World Economic Forum, there is a growing consensus that inequality is a crucial challenge of our time and that failure to act is both economically and socially damaging,” Dr Szoke said. “Despite the warm words, little action has materialised.”
The Oxfam report, endorsed by Founder of theFoundation for Community Development in Mozambique Graça Machel, Kofi Annan and economist Joseph Stiglitz, aims to push world leaders to turn rhetoric into reality and ensure the poorest people get a fairer deal.
Inequality must be put on the G20 agenda. And action is needed to clamp down on tax dodging carried out by multinational corporations and the world’s richest individuals. Big global corporations and the wealthiest people must pay their fair share to government budgets, so that countries can tackle inequality and build fairer societies.
“Far from being a driver of economic growth, extreme inequality is a barrier to prosperity for most people on the planet,” Dr Szoke said.
“It’s no coincidence that the countries where Ebola has hit hardest, and is still spreading at a terrifying pace, are some of the poorest in the world. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are ranked in the bottom 12 countries on the Human Development Index and are among the world’s worst resourced when it comes to health infrastructure.”
Dr Szoke said that in India, for example, halting the recent increase in inequality could enable 90 million more people to escape extreme poverty by 2019. In Kenya, 3 million more people could be pushed below the poverty line by the same year if inequality there remained at current levels rather than declining.
“Tackling inequality is not about being envious of fast cars and super yachts – it’s about the fact that the richest literally live longer and healthier lives than the poorest and can access a world of opportunity beyond others’ reach,” she said.
“Today, despite growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 16 billionaires living alongside the 358 million people in extreme poverty. In South Africa, inequality is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid.
“The Australian Government has put economic growth firmly on the G20 agenda but has failed to explicitly recognise the threat of rising inequality to its 2 per cent growth target.
For the G20 to succeed in achieving their growth ambitions, they must act to curb growing inequality and commit to pursue inclusive, sustainable and equitable growth strategies to ensure that growth benefits the poorest – and doesn’t deepen inequality.”
Read the report here –
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