3 reasons to read about 1 easy solution to extreme inequality: Free public services

Emma Seery

Blog post by Emma Seery

Oxfam Great Britain, Head of Development Finance & Public Services
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Today we are launching a new report, ‘Working for the Many: Public Services Fight Inequality.’ This is the next in Oxfam’s series of reports looking at the scandalous gap between rich and poor that is undermining poverty reduction, and putting the power increasingly in the hands of elites the world over.

So why have I spent the last few months immersed in ‘benefit incidence’ studies? No, not just because I am a sucker for punishment, but because there is such a strong case to be made for free public services as a weapon in the fight against extreme inequality. And now is the time to make it.

So if you are not convinced that you should read this paper – let me give you three killer reasons to do so:

1. This is a precious moment in history.

This is a precious moment in history where we have the chance to really challenge governments on what they are doing to tackle inequality. When Obama, the Pope, the UN, the heads of the World Bank and IMF, and the leaders from business and governments who met in Davos this year, are all talking about the unfair gap between rich and poor, it is time to start putting solutions on the table.

2. Public services like health and education really do help.

Public services like health and education really do help to level the playing field in a world where income and wealth are unfairly concentrated in the hands of the few. So in rich OECD countries for instance, public services are worth the equivalent of a huge 76 per cent of the post-tax income of the poorest group and just 14 per cent of the richest. Ergo, they benefit everyone, but they benefit those who are stuck in the trap of low incomes far more. The same is true in poor countries.

3. Health user fees bankrupt people.

Health user fees bankrupt 150 million people every year. In Pakistan the average family would need to spend 127 per cent of their income to send all of their children to a low-fee school. And privatized services help the richest, who already have the deck stacked in their favour, far more than the poorest.

Once you understand that services can have this impact, it makes you ask why would anyone implement fees or privatize services, thus prevent their inequality-busting potential?

Working for the many

In short, free public health and education work for the many, and investing in these life-saving and life-changing services is not a radical idea. It is a basic responsibility of governments around the world.

So please do have a read - Working For The Many: Public services fight inequality - and let us know what you think. Add your comments below.

Finally, I’m going to end with a trailer. This paper doesn’t get into the rich evidence showing how fairer taxation – from tackling tax havens, secrecy for sale, and unfair taxation that lets the richest get away without paying their fair share – can also tackle inequality head on. That one is coming soon. So watch this space, and watch out powerful people. The solutions are coming your way. We hope you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is and implement them before it’s too late.

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