Just eight people own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new Oxfam global report revealing the gap between the super-rich and the poor is far greater than had been feared.
Oxfam Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said Australia had not escaped the trend, with an Oxfam analysis showing the country’s richest two billionaires, who are worth USD $16.1 billion (AUD $21.6) between them, own more than the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
“The scale of the global wealth inequality crisis is much, much greater than we had feared,” said Dr Szoke.
Oxfam analysis also shows that the richest 1 per cent of Australians owns more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent of Australian citizens combined.
The alarming statistics, published today as part of Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99 per cent, comes as the world’s political and business leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland, this week to attend the annual World Economic Forum.
The wealthiest, including those among the world’s richest eight, are also often the most generous and these individuals deserve to be congratulated for using their money to help others.
But the reality is that large multinational corporations are fuelling the inequality crisis in their bid to maximise returns for their wealthy shareholders. These large corporations do this by dodging corporate taxes, not paying their workers decent wages and using their money and connections to influence politics in the world’s poorest countries
“Such an extreme divide between the rich and the rest risks plunging future generations into political instability, undermining our democratic institutions and creating economic upheaval,” Dr Szoke said.
Oxfam’s analysis is based on new and improved Credit Suisse data, which reveals that the bottom half of the world’s population is significantly worse off than previously thought, with far more debt and fewer assets.
Dr Szoke said had the new datasets been available last year, they would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the world’s poorest half, and not 62, as calculated with the data available at the time.
“Collectively, the world’s richest eight men have a net wealth of USD $426 billion (AUD $621 billion) – about the same as the bottom half of humanity,” Dr Szoke said.
“That so much wealth is now in the hands of just eight people – and that this fact can coexist in a world with extreme poverty which sees one in 10 people surviving on less than $2 a day – highlights how broken our economic system really is.”
Dr Szoke said the Federal Government needed to introduce tougher laws that forced large multinationals based in Australia to publicly report incomes, employees, profits earned and taxes paid for every country in which they operate.
Previous research by Oxfam estimates that tax dodging by Australian-based multinationals is costing nearly $6 billion a year in tax revenue in Australia and depriving developing countries of nearly $3 billion annually.
This is money that could be used to tackle extreme inequality, including by funding essential services such as schools, hospitals and public infrastructure that benefit everyone.
“The Australian Government has a responsibility to ensure the economy works for everyone, to end the extreme concentration of wealth and ensure those at the bottom end are better supported,” Dr Szoke said.
“With debate reignited in Australia over plans to crack down on welfare recipients and some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation, the Government could instead be recouping billions for the public coffers through tougher tax laws and working towards ending the era of tax havens that is ripping money from the poorest countries where it is needed most.
“We also want to see the super-rich and big corporations commit to paying their fair share and investing in technologies and practices more compatible with an economy that benefits all by improving people’s lives, both here and for the world’s poorest people,
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