Today Oxfam launches Even It Up around the world, a new campaign calling for world leaders to make closing the gap between the richest and the rest a priority. Here, Emma Seery introduces the Even It Up campaign and explains why this is such a crucial part of Oxfam’s work.
From Ghana to Germany, South Africa to Spain, today the gap between rich and poor is widening. In 2013, seven out of 10 people lived in countries where economic inequality was worse than 30 years ago, and in 2014 Oxfam calculated that just 85 people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. 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.
There are 16 billionaires in Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living there in extreme poverty
Extreme inequality corrupts politics and hinders economic growth. It exacerbates gender inequality, and causes a range of health and social problems. It stifles social mobility keeping some families poor for generations whilst others enjoy generations of privilege. It fuels crime and even violent conflict. These corrosive consequences affect us all, but the impact is worst for the poorest people. They literally live shorter lives, robbed of basic rights like clean water and education whilst their wealthy neighbours prosper.
Evidence also shows that the yawning gap between rich and poor undermines poverty eradication. For example, if India stopped inequality from rising, they could lift 90 million more people out of extreme poverty by 2019. This is why Oxfam is joining a growing movement campaigning for an end to extreme inequality, and asking decision-makers everywhere what they will do to make this a reality.
So what can be done to end extreme inequality?
Inequality is not inevitable; it is the result of deliberate political and economic choices. Thomas Piketty has now famously made the case that without government intervention the market economy tends to lead to extreme concentrations of wealth. This is backed up by decades of experience in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the former Eastern bloc where inequality rose after a cold shower of deregulation, privatisation and spending cuts. The influence and interests of economic and political elites have also long reinforced inequality. Money buys political clout that allows elites to
further entrench their unfair advantages and to block policies that could strengthen the rights of the majority, as today’s lopsided tax policies and lax regulatory regimes demonstrate.
Oxfam’s Even It Up report, launched today, calls on Governments to reduce inequality by changing the rules and systems that have led to today’s inequality explosion, and by prioritising policies that redistribute money and power.
A South African platinum miner would need to work for 93 years just to earn the average CEO’s annual bonus
We must see an end to the skyrocketing executive pay and poverty wages that are a recipe for growing inequality. A South African platinum miner would need to work for 93 years just to earn the average CEO’s annual bonus, and 600 million women work in jobs that are insecure and typically not protected by labour laws. Providing living wages and decent working conditions, protecting the rights of workers to organise, and giving workers a say in decision-making can start to reverse inequality.
There is also an urgent need to make tax systems work harder to tackle inequality. In Nicaragua the poorest people pay a higher percentage in tax than the wealthiest. Tax dodging by corporations and wealthy individuals robs public budgets around the world of hundreds of billions of dollars undermining the ability of governments to tackle inequality. Governments must ensure that the tax burden falls fairly so that those most able to pay contribute more, and put an end to fragmented global rules and tax loopholes.
Free publicly provided services like health and education can help to tackle inequality. But too many governments, under pressure from special interests, are privatising services and charging user fees that undermine this potential, and undermine the rights of their citizens. Economic policies should also be better targeted to tackle economic and gender inequality together; free public services, child benefits and minimum wages would start to pay this double dividend.
Mass demonstrations from Chile and Brazil to Iceland and Hungary have shown that people around the world are unwilling to stand for unfair tax systems and a lack of quality services. People are calling for governments to act in their interests, rather than on behalf of national and international elites. Oxfam’s Even It Up campaign agrees with them.
Image: “Amir Nasser, 12, Jamam refugee camp. Two small makeshift schools are now open in Jamam, but these cannot accommodate all the children in the camp. Conflict and displacement severely interrupts the education of children.” (Credit: John Ferguson)