Monday, 18 January, 2016

Oxfam’s report today on global inequality finds that just 62 people now have as much wealth as half the world’s population. Despite great strides made in recent years to reduce global poverty, an undoubtedly important objective by anyone’s measure, the gap between the very richest and the rest of the world’s population continues to grow.

This isn’t an abstract concern. Inequality is a huge threat to economic and democratic systems, social cohesion and the health and wellbeing of entire populations. We know from the now vast array of research on the subject that in more equal countries you’re more likely to trust others, live longer with better physical and mental health and your children are more likely to achieve a decent education.

Inequality isn’t just an issue of international elites and shadowy global plutocrats shuffling from one tax jurisdiction to the next. Inequality within countries is almost as extreme, especially here in the UK, where we are one of the most unequal countries outside of the developing world.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the richest 62 people in Britain have £260.4bn, or comfortably more wealth than the poorest 30% of the population (who have £203.5bn). From 2014-15 the richest 100 people saw their wealth increase by £10.78bn, that’s around £30m a day.

One of the defences of this increase is the argument that while the rich may seem extremely wealthy compared to ordinary folk, their fortunes are both made and lost, with people moving in and out of the Rich List each year. As a consequence, it’s not fair to compare one year’s list with another’s. Perhaps, but since the recession in 2008 around 85 people in the Rich List’s top 100 have stayed in the list. During this period, they’ve seen their combined wealth increase by at least £28bn, at the same time the average income has fallen £1,092 since 2008.

The huge imbalance in the resources, wealth and incomes people now enjoy should concern us all. Most recognise it when they see their children growing up in a country where it is harder to find a well-paid job, or to get on the property ladder. But we also see it every day in our relationships with others. Inequality stretches society, making it harder for people to recognise and understand others who are not in the same position as they are. It’s why trust is so low in more unequal countries and mental and physical health problems are so high.

We often hear politicians talk of equality of opportunity, of giving everyone a fair chance at the start of life. But when some start with access to unimaginable wealth, and others enter the world in poverty and deprivation, it’s clear that’s just not possible. Oxfam’s work today shows just how vast and indefensible inequality of outcome now is. It’s high time politicians took seriously the task of reducing it. 

John Hood, Media and Communications Manager