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Gap between rich and poor widening, according to Oxfam report

Posted on 23 January 2018

The gap between the super-rich and the rest of the world widened last year as wealth continued to be owned by a small minority, a report by Oxfam has revealed.

82% of money generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population. Pic Credit: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

The Reward Work, Not Wealth report revealed some 82% of money generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population while the poorest half saw no increase at all.

The report has been welcomed by the University of York’s Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences, and the University's Research Champion for Justice and Equality.

Tax evasion

Professor Pickett is the co-author of The Spirit Level, a best-selling book which highlights the problems caused by unequal distribution of incomes.

Professor Pickett, who also advised on some aspects of the Oxfam report, said: ”I'm delighted that Oxfam continues to draw the world's attention to the intractable and growing problem of inequality, and all of its terrible consequences, as well as highlighting how much people, all across the world, would like to live in more equal societies.”

The report highlights tax evasion, corporate influence on policy, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors as contributing factors in the widening gap between the super-rich and the rest.

Billionaire wealth rose by an average of 13% a year between 2006 and 2015 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers. It takes just four days for a CEO of one of the world’s five biggest fashion retailers to earn as much as a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her entire lifetime.

Global pay gap

The report reveals 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.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said: “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.

“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.” 

Improved data has led to an upward revision of Oxfam’s annual estimate of how many people own the same as the poorest half of humanity, although the trend of widening inequality remains.

Now, 42 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50%. In its latest Global Wealth Report Credit Suisse expanded its dataset. Using this new data, Oxfam now calculates that last year 61 people owned the same as half the world. As recently as 2009, the figure was 380.

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About this research

Kate Pickett is Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences, and the University's Research Champion for Justice and Equality. Professor Pickett advised on some aspects of the Oxfam report.