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Deeply Divided Britain

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Today Oxfam published some shocking figures that show just how deeply divided Britain is. Just five families have more wealth than the poorest 20 percent of the entire UK population. That's nearly 13 million people, the same number as those officially classed as living below the UK poverty line.

Behind the statistics are the people who Oxfam works with. In desperate poverty. In hunger. In Britain. In the last year over half a million Britons received emergency food aid from a Trussell Trust foodbank, one of the UK poverty projects Oxfam supports. What is driving this? Those on the lowest incomes have to face walking a daily tightrope to balance their budgets. With wages that rarely go up and rising prices of daily essentials, any small financial shock - like a broken washing machine, a higher than expected heating bill or a much-needed new pair of school shoes - can be enough to tip people over the edge.

We've spoken to foodbank users who've had to hand back things like pasta and rice, because they cannot afford to pay for the gas to heat a pan of water. And people who've had to pay a fuel bill by going into debt, despite the crippling interest costs they'll face the month after. Jack Monroe, an inspiring anti-poverty campaigner and now well-known austerity cook, said when things were at their worst for her she was taking out lightbulbs and going hungry herself so that she could feed her young son.

Britain has been struggling financially, as have many Brits - not just at the bottom but millions of ordinary families - but an elite few have never had it so good. The richest 0.1 percent have seen their incomes rise four times faster than everyone else's in the last two decades.

Across the globe there's a similar picture, where just a small group of people have vast sums of wealth, whilst many millions live in desperate poverty. An Oxfam report published earlier this year revealed that the richest 85 people on the planet own the same amount between them as half the world's population - that's 3.5 billion people.

It's now accepted that the levels of inequality we've now reached are bad for the economy as well as the poor. Even the people at the top, billionaires like Warren Buffett and the wealthy participants of the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, think things have gone too far. The International Monetary Fund is warning that extreme income inequality undermines both the pace and sustainability of economic growth.

Even more damaging than the economic consequences of inequality are the social ones. Extreme economic inequality is damaging because of the negative impact it has on poverty reduction and overall prosperity. It multiplies social problems and compounds other inequalities such as those between men and women. Evidence from across the world shows inequality harms not just those at the bottom, but everyone in society.

The good news is that together we can change things. Inequality is the result of choices our leaders have made. It is time for them to stand up and be counted on this issue, and for people to press them to do so. Ahead of the Budget this week, we're calling on the Government to re-balance the books by raising revenues from those who can most afford it, starting with the redoubling of efforts to clamp down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and setting out a long-term strategy to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.

This isn't about being anti rich. Many rich people use a portion of their wealth to support individual good causes, but this should not be used as an excuse for governments failing to tackle the problem of growing inequality.

Britons don't want to be divided like this. That today's story from Oxfam was featured so prominently both the Sun and the Mirror, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, and the comments on radio shows and online, shows that people of all political persuasions and backgrounds want to see a society that is fairer, safer, and kinder than one that tells 12.6 million people they are worth less than five wealth families.