Eighty-two percent of wealth generated last year across the world went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half saw no increase, according to a new Oxfam report published today as political & business elites gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
The report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, sets out how the very biggest gains were made by billionaires. In the 12 months to March 2017, billionaires’ fortunes grew by a staggering $762 billion [£585 billion] – enough to end extreme poverty more than seven times over.
Oxfam said it was unacceptable and unsustainable for our economies to continue to enable a super-rich minority to accumulate vast wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggle to survive on poverty pay.
The organisation is calling for governments to ensure our economies work for everyone and not just the fortunate few.
Dr. Katherine Trebeck, Oxfam’s Glasgow-based Senior Researcher, said that people in Scotland were also feeling the strain of yawning inequality, with the wealthiest 1% in the country owning more than wealth than the bottom 50% put together.
Dr. Trebeck said: “It’s grimly apparent that the inequality crisis is out of control. The economic system is set up in a way that enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast wealth at the expense of hundreds of millions of people who are scraping a living on poverty pay.
“This isn’t a faraway crisis. We know that in Scotland, having a job doesn’t always mean escaping poverty: the vast majority of working age people living in poverty here live in a home where someone’s got a job.
“Our economic system can be designed not for the wealthy, but in a way that creates a human economy. People around the world and in here in Scotland are ready for change. They want to see workers paid a living wage; they want corporations and the superrich to pay more tax; they want women workers to enjoy the same rights as men; they want a limit on the power and the wealth which sits in the hands of so few.
“The Scottish Government has a golden opportunity to lead the way towards a fairer future working with others to demonstrate that it’s possible to make our economies work for everyone and not just the fortunate few. Our country may be small but our ideas can be big and they can resonate far beyond our borders.”
Oxfam’s report highlights how the excessive corporate influence on policy-making, erosion of workers’ rights and relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors all contribute to a widening gap between the super-rich and the rest.
Billionaire wealth rose by an average of 13 percent a year between 2006 and 2015 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers.
In Scotland, as around the world, women consistently earn less than men and are concentrated in the lowest-paid, least-secure forms of work. At current rates of change it will take 217 years to close the global gap in pay and employment opportunities between women and men. Oxfam has heard from women in Vietnamese garment factories whose low wages force them to live apart from their children, women in the US poultry industry who wear nappies because they are denied toilet breaks, and women working in hotels in Canada and the Dominican Republic who stay silent
about sexual harassment for fear of being fired.
Similarly, in a previous Oxfam Scotland report on decent work, one woman who worked in a call centre told researchers that her bosses would routinely humiliate staff, questioning why people were in the toilet for ‘too long’.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said: “Something is very wrong with a global economy that allows the one percent to enjoy the lion’s share of increases in wealth while the poorest half of humanity miss out. The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.
“For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.
“Leaders should ensure that wealthy individuals and businesses pay their fair share of tax by cracking down on tax avoidance, and invest this into essential services like schools and hospitals, and creating jobs for young people.”
A new survey demonstrates huge support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72 percent in the UK – say they want their government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.
In a previous study by Oxfam Scotland, a whopping three-quarters of people in Scotland favoured wealth being distributed more equally, with two-thirds believing politicians should do more to address economic inequality.
Goldring added: “Many leaders say they’re worried about the corrosive effect of inequality but their tough talk too often fades away at the first resistance. Some companies and wealthy individuals are taking steps towards fairer ways of doing business but too many others use their power to protect their own interests. To really transform our economies, we need to look again at the business models and laws that prioritise shareholder returns above wider social benefit.”
—– ENDS —–
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Rebecca Lozza, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam Scotland, on 0141 285 8875 or RLozza1@Oxfam.org.uk
Notes to Editors:
- The embargoed report and methodology are available for download. https://oxfam.box.com/s/qqufrc8wd37ei1bqa0lg3wkaculh0o0m See the report and methodology note for more information about Oxfam’s statistics.
- Table showing distribution of new global wealth: https://drive.google.com/file/d/15NMFNjFFWQCyimLPK_V3eAF0stTVn3md/view Case study footage and photos available: Lan, a worker in a Vietnam factory supplying global fashion brands, sews 1200 pairs of trainers a day for around $1 [74p] an hour. https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=34834&k=d01d5ca80d
- Oxfam Scotland’s report Building a More Equal Scotland: Designing Scotland’s Poverty and Inequality Commission can be accessed here.