… The report says that there is a growing global public awareness of this power-grab. Polls carried out for Oxfam in the UK, Brazil, India, South Africa, Spain and US show that most people in all six countries believe that laws are skewed in favour of the rich. The UK polling carried out by Research Now, found that two-thirds of people thought ‘the rich had too much influence over the direction the country is headed’ and only one in ten disagreed. The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the OECD club of rich nations.
Inequality has shot up the global agenda recently. US President Obama has made the issue one of his key priorities for 2014. The World Economic Forum has identified widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the next 12-18 months. WEF’s Global Outlook report, published in November, warned inequality is undermining social stability and ‘threatening security on a global scale’.
Oxfam wants governments to take urgent action to reverse the trend. It is asking those attending Davos to make six-point personal pledge to tackle the problem.
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam Executive Director who will attend the Davos meetings, said:
"It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population - that’s three and a half billion people - own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.
"We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.
"In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.
"Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest."
The UK Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, chaired by Alun Milburn, warned in October that having stopped rising towards the end of the last century, social mobility is now flat-lining and “could go into reverse”. It found that too often being born poor leads to a lifetime of poverty.
Policies successfully demanded by the rich in recent decades include financial deregulation, tax havens and secrecy, anti-competitive business practice, lower tax rates on high incomes and investments and cuts or underinvestment in public services for the majority. Since the late 1970’s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, meaning that in many places the rich not only get more money but also pay less tax on it. …