THE BLOG

Time to Even Up Extreme Gap Between Rich and Poor

30/10/2014 10:49 GMT | Updated 29/12/2014 10:59 GMT

You would be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with the notion of fairness. It is a strong and dearly-held British value. It is a central pillar of the values that have been expressed through religion, philosophy and even literature and folklore for centuries. So today Oxfam is asking the question, why, despite this, are we living in a world of extreme wealth and extreme poverty? Why has the gap between rich and poor been allowed to reach such extreme levels, penalising the poorest people everywhere?

Today we launched our Even It Up campaign in more than 30 countries around the world, calling for an end to extreme inequality, and a report of the same name, which lays out some of the ways we believe governments, institutions and companies can start to turn the tide.

This is not a new idea, and it is one that Oxfam is far from alone in taking seriously. For the last three years, the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Survey pointed to 'severe income disparity' as one of the top global risks of the coming decade. Since then the Pope has called inequality 'the root of social evil', and Christine Lagarde, Head of the IMF has said that today's inequality 'is not a recipe for stability and sustainability.'

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, earlier this year, we presented our research showing that 85 people owned as much as the poorest half of humanity, and the story went viral, striking a moral nerve around the world. I remember asking my mum whether she'd seen Oxfam's coverage; she said no, but then went on to tell me about this amazing news story about 85 people , who would all fit on a double-decker bus, that own half the world's wealth. That number took on such a life of its own that it went far beyond being an 'Oxfam story'.

For Oxfam, the main reason we are engaging in this debate is because extremes of inequality put the brakes on poverty reduction. That hurts the poorest people in countries like Zambia, where the evidence in our report shows clearly that the fruits of growth are not being shared with ordinary families. Or take India, where hundreds of millions of people live in extreme poverty and indignity, whilst the number of billionaires has soared from two in the mid 90s to more than 60 today. Closer to home; in the UK and Europe, cuts in public services are affecting poorest families most, and too many people are jobless or working hard for poverty wages.

Tackling the gap between the rich and poor is crucial to ensure nobody is robbed of the chance to live a decent life in a world of plenty; that no family is left without decent schools, water or electricity they can afford, or unable to put food on the table. This is a simple matter of right and wrong.

We are joining a groundswell of ordinary people who are already speaking out against extreme inequality. People across the world and across the political spectrum are calling for action to tackle inequality. There is an opportunity of a generation to move this debate onto solutions now, and an unacceptable human cost if that does not happen.

Our report sets out some very clear specific actions that will help close the gap. We want all governments to commit to a shared goal to tackle extreme inequality, a commitment to prioritise tackling inequality when making policy choices. This has failed to happen in recent decades.

We also need to see fairer tax systems. Everyone should pay tax according to their means, and that does mean those who are better off making more of a contribution to the public services which we all need, and which in many cases have been vital to their success. Alongside that, governments need to urgently find a way that no wealthy individual or company can game the system unfairly, and shift their money, profit and business activities around to minimise their tax bill. Tax dodging leaves huge holes in the budgets of rich and poor countries alike, and all too often small companies and less wealthy workers pick up the tab.

It is in governments' own interests to act. Billionaire Nick Hanauer put it far better than I ever could when he said 'There is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn't eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counter examples.'