The gap between the world’s richest and poorest people in the world appears to be as wide as ever.
Oxfam, an international charity says the wealthiest 62 people on the globe now own as much as half the world’s population.
The wealth of the richest 62 people has risen by 44 percent since 2010, while the wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion fell 41 per cent, Oxfam said in a report released ahead of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
“World leaders’ concern about the escalating inequality crisis has so far not translated into concrete action, the world has become a much more unequal place and the trend is accelerating,” Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanima, said in a statement accompanying the report.
Nearly half of the super-rich are from the United States, 17 are from Europe while the rest are from countries including Brazil, China, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
Offshore tax havens are holding about $7.6 trillion of individuals’ wealth. Gabriel Zucman, assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley, has estimated if tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190 billion would be available to governments every year.
Oxfam, citing Zucman’s work, said about 30 per cent of all African financial wealth is held offshore, costing about $14 billion in lost tax revenues every year. Oxfam said that would be enough money to pay for healthcare that could save 4 million children’s lives a year, and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.
“Multinational companies and wealthy elites are playing by different rules to everyone else, refusing to pay the taxes that society needs to function. The fact that 188 of 201 leading companies have a presence in at least one tax haven shows it is time to act,” Byanima said.
The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by 650 million since 1981, even though the global population grew by 2 billion in that time, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Leading figures from Pope Francis to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have called for action to reverse the trend in inequality, but Oxfam said words had not been translated into action.
The World Economic Forum in Davos comes amid fears that the turmoil in financial markets since the turn of the year may herald the start of a new phase to the global crisis that began eight years ago — this time originating in the less-developed emerging countries.
Oxfam said a three-pronged approach was needed: a crackdown on tax dodging; higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid. It said a priority should be to close down tax havens, increasingly used by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying tax and which had deprived governments of the resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.