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Only eight men own same wealth as half the world – Report

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Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, Oxfam has said in a report.

The report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared. It details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

It calls for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few. 

New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought. Had this new data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survives on less than $2 a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,” Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, was quoted as saying.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite,” she added.

The report also shows how broken economies are funnelling wealth to rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of whom are women. The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years.

“To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2738 years to spend $1 trillion,” the report said.

Public anger with inequality is already creating political shockwaves across the globe. Inequality has been cited as a significant factor in the election of Donald Trump in the US, the election of President Duterte in the Philippines, and Brexit in the UK.  

The report adds that seven out of 10 people live in a country that has seen a rise in inequality in the last 30 years. Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent increased by just $65 per person, while the incomes of the richest one per cent grew by $11,800 per person – 182 times as much. 

Women, who are often employed in low pay sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the work place, and those who take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work often find themselves at the bottom of the pile. On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.

An economy for the 99 per cent also reveals how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis.  It shows how, in order to maximize returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, and investing less in their business, it said.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands. The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.  

The report further said corporate tax dodging costs poor countries at least $100 billion every year. This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers. Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’.

Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries which are prone to corruption and cronyism. 

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them. For example, billionaires in Brazil have sought to influence elections and successfully lobbied for a reduction in tax bills while oil corporations in Nigeria have managed to secure generous tax breaks.

By Pamela Ofori-Boateng

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