Charity Oxfam says a doubling in the number of the world’s super-rich is holding back efforts to end global poverty.
New research shows the number of so-called dollar billionaires has more than doubled to 1,645 since the financial crisis of 2008.
Despite austerity affecting ordinary cash-strapped people around the globe in the wake of the recession, the richest 85 billionaires saw their fortunes increase by a total of around £150 billion over the past year – the equivalent of £415 million a day or almost a third of a million pounds a minute.
Just 85 people had access to wealth equal to that of half the world’s population, research showed.
The paper, entitled Even it Up: Time To End Extreme Inequality, claimed that if the world’s billionaires were taxed at a rate of just 1.5 per cent on their wealth over $1bn (£624m), it would raise £46bn a year – enough to get every child into school and deliver health services in all of the world’s poorest countries.
Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring said: “Inequality is one of the defining problems of our age. In a world where hundreds of millions are living without access to clean drinking water and without enough food to feed their families, a small elite have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes.
“The consequences of extreme inequality are harmful to everyone. It robs millions of people of better life chances and fuels crime, corruption and even violent conflict. Put simply, it is holding back efforts to end poverty. Governments around the world have been guilty of a naive faith that wealth going to those at the top will automatically benefit everyone.
“That’s not true – it is their responsibility to ensure the poorest are not left behind.”
Oxfam challenged governments to follow a seven-point plan to rein in inequality: by clamping down on tax dodging; investing in universal free healthcare and education; introducing equal pay legislation; agreeing a global goal to tackle inequality; introducing minimum wages and moving towards a living wage for all workers; shifting the burden of taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth; and providing adequate safety nets for the poor, including a minimum income guarantee.
Mr Goldring said: “Extreme inequality is far from being inevitable – it is the result of political choices and economic fashion, kept in place by a wealthy elite whose influence helps keep the rules rigged in their favour. Too often, the ‘invisible hand of the market’ is used as an excuse to pick the pockets of the poor.”
Bank of England chief economist Andrew Haldane said: “In highlighting the problem of inequality, Oxfam not only speaks to the interests of the poorest people but also the wider collective interest.
“There is rising evidence that extreme inequality harms, durably and significantly, the stability of the financial system and growth in the economy.”