All I want for 2014 is a challenge to extreme inequality

Ben Phillips, Director of Campaigns and Policy at OxfamGB wants to challenge inequality and start making those with the broadest shoulders carry the heaviest burdens.

What I’d like to see improved in 2014 is the balance between those at the very top and the rest of us: if we are to help the "have-nots" then we'll need to challenge the "have-yachts."

Even before the financial crisis began, inequality was on the rise. And the only people who haven't been hit by the financial crisis, the data shows, are the financiers.

Whilst many low-paid workers across the UK struggle to put food on the table, the super rich are seeing their pay spiral up - top bosses' pay has grown 20 times faster than that of the average worker.

This is at a time when queues for foodbanks are getting longer and longer. Some argue such a divide between rich and poor does no harm, but the reality of this is that people in the poorest neighbourhoods in England die seven years younger than those in the richest.

Inequality the defining challenge

As Barack Obama has noted, "dangerous and growing inequality is the defining challenge of our time."

Opinion surveys show that in every country surveyed, the vast majority of people agree that the gap between those at the top, and the majority, has grown too wide.

We see the consequences of this divide with our own eyes in Oxfam's work in the UK and across the world.

Over the summer I was in India, a country that is seemingly booming, yet it is home to a third of the world’s poorest people.

Whilst India’s richest people have benefitted from the country’s rapid growth, a vast proportion of the population, over 800 million people, still live below the poverty line.

At the same time, just 46 people – India’s resident billionaires - own 10 per cent of the country’s entire wealth.

The same can be said if you look at the global picture: a tiny handful controlling huge amounts of money. The richest 1 per cent actually own over half of all global wealth.

This awful injustice isn't even good for better-off people. Extreme inequality harms not just those at the bottom, but everyone in society.

Development suffers

As former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “extreme disparities in income are slowing the pace of poverty reduction and hampering the development of broad-based economic growth."

Extreme inequality stretches the bonds of society to breaking point. We are at that point now.

"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. The powerful feed upon the powerless. Masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

That's not the nineteenth century, as described by Marx. That's today, as described by the Pope. And Pope Francis is right on the money.

Addressing inequality

Growing income inequality has dominated recent talks at the Davos World Economic Forum but there’s been very little action since to actually address it. To his credit the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron committed at the G8 to crack down on tax dodging.

But leaders can go further and faster to ensure that the world’s wealthiest pay their fair share - not just by preventing evasion and avoidance, but by requiring that those with the broadest shoulders carry the heaviest burdens - starting with a Robin Tax on financial transactions.

They can use that money to help the majority, both here and overseas, to prosper together. That starts with the recognition that inequality has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. For all of our futures.

Originally published by, under the title of All I want for Christmas is a challenge to extreme inequality.

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