People are demanding action on inequality: We are joining them

Blog post by Winnie Byanyima

Oxfam International, Executive Director
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Over the past year, an overwhelming consensus has developed on the dangers of growing and extreme economic inequality. The gulf between the haves and the have nots has never been as large. 

If the trend of rising inequality is allowed to continue, we not only risk condemning billions to poverty and exclusion, we put the stability and cohesion of our societies and the sustainability of the whole planet at risk. The evidence is clear: today’s extremes of inequality are threatening to set the fight against poverty back by decades.

In January this year, our report that the world’s richest 85 people control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population caught the public imagination and made it onto the news agenda globally. The collective wealth of this tiny few increased by $668 million per day between 2013 and 2014. That’s almost half a million dollars every minute.

People around the world are demanding action on inequality. We are joining in support of them. Today Oxfam launches a new campaign, Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality. We want this to be a wake-up up call for all of us: governments, companies and citizens need to act now to change the status quo. 

Leaders as diverse as His Holiness Pope Francis, IMF head Christine Lagarde and President Obama have spoken out about the need for change. That there is a problem is agreed. What we need now is a shared agenda for solutions.

We aim to show through our campaign that inequality is not inevitable. It is the result of choices - and different choices can reverse it.

How then to stem the growing gap between rich and poor?

  • We need urgent tax reform. At national, international, individual and corporate levels, tax burdens must fall fairly so that those most able to pay contribute more. There must be an end to fragmented global rules and tax loopholes which reward those who avoid their civic obligation, but leave the poorest footing the bill. Progressive tax policies are the most effective redistributive mechanism for tackling the growing gap between rich and poor.
  • We need to level the playing field by investing in universal free public services, including health care, education, and social protection. These measures can mitigate the worst impacts of today’s skewed wealth and income distribution, but also enable a healthy and educated majority to seize greater opportunity to prosper in life. 
  • People must be paid a fair wage for their work. A first step to reducing inequality is by making work pay - providing living wages, decent conditions of work and protecting the rights of workers to organize.
  • We need to confront inequality by backing people to claim their rights and hold their leaders to account. When the wealthiest use their financial power and the influence that comes with it to bend laws and policy choices in their favour, democracy is undermined. We need changes to the rules and systems that have led to today’s inequality explosion – governments’ primary concern must be responding to the needs of their citizens, not being unduly influenced by affluence. 

We are honored to have Kofi Annan, Graça Machel, Joseph Stiglitz and many others supporting our call to action.

I invite you to join us: let’s Even It Up.