Pacific Scoop

Global inequality spirals out of control

Press Release – Oxfam

Number of billionaires doubles since financial crisis as global inequality spirals out of control In same period at least a million mothers died in childbirth due to lack of basic health services Rising inequality could set the fight against poverty …Number of billionaires doubles since financial crisis as
global inequality spirals out of control

In same period at least a million mothers died in childbirth due to lack of basic health services

Rising inequality could set the fight against poverty back by decades(1), Oxfam warned today as it published a new report showing that the number of billionaires worldwide has more than doubled since the global financial crisis.(2)

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.

In countries around the world, prosperity is not trickling down to ordinary people, but up to those at the top, whose exceptional wealth is growing ever more rapidly. The richest 85 people – who Oxfam revealed in January as having the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population(3) – saw their collective wealth increase by $668 million per day between 2013 and 2014. That’s almost half a million dollars every minute.(4)

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. Despite the warm words, little action has materialised.

The Oxfam report, endorsed by Graça Machel, Kofi Annan and Joseph Stiglitz among others(5), is the opening salvo of a new Oxfam campaign, also called Even it Up, to push world leaders to turn rhetoric into reality and ensure the poorest people get a fairer deal. 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 governments’ coffers, so that countries can tackle inequality and build fairer societies.

Rachael Le Mesurier, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director, said inequality is widespread in the Pacific. “According to the World Bank, the top 20% of people across Pacific Island countries consume up to 12 times as much as the bottom 20% with levels of inequality highest in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. This inequality needs to be addressed before extreme poverty in the Pacific can be eradicated.

“Far from being a driver of economic growth, extreme inequality is a barrier to prosperity for most people on the planet. Today wealth is trickling upwards, and will continue to do so until governments act. We should not allow narrow-minded economic doctrine and the self-interest of the rich and powerful to blind us to these facts.

“Around the world millions of people are dying due to a lack of health care and millions of children are missing out on school, while a small elite have more money than they could spend in a lifetime.

“Inequality hinders growth, corrupts politics, stifles opportunity and fuels instability while deepening discrimination, especially against women,” said Le Mesurier.

The potential benefit of redistributing the wealth of the very richest, by even a tiny amount, tells a compelling story. A levy of just 1.5 per cent on the wealth of the world’s billionaires today could raise enough each year to get every child into school and deliver health care in the poorest countries.(6)

The effect of curbing inequality would be as dramatic as would be the failure to act. In India, for example, halting the recent increase in inequality could enable 90 million more people to escape extreme poverty by 2019.(7)

“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. We live in a world where there is plenty enough for everyone to improve their lot. Extreme inequality causes instability, conflict and even mental health problems that affect us all. It is time to even it up before it gets worse,” said Le Mesurier.

“Through our poverty alleviation work in the Pacific, Oxfam aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable. It is not enough to hope that simply by growing economies, everyone will be lifted out of poverty. Assistance must be targeted to the poorest and aid programmes must always ensure they are not increasing inequalities,” she said.

Investment in free public services in developing countries will be crucial to closing the gap between the richest and the rest. Every year, 100 million people are driven into poverty because they are forced to pay for health care. From 2009-2014, at least one million women died in childbirth due to a lack of basic health services.(8) Meanwhile, education fees still exclude far too many. In Ghana, for instance, the poorest families would have to pay 40% of their income to send just one child to a low-fee school, underlining the importance of free education for all.

But for those at the top it’s a different tale as they have enough assets to last them well beyond their years. If the world’s three richest people were to spend $1m every single day each, it would take each one of them around 200 years to exhaust all of their wealth.(9) This is not a rich country story; today there are 16 billionaires in Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living there in extreme poverty, while in South Africa, inequality is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid.

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