Billionaires and politicians gathering in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to tackle rising inequality after a study found that – on current trends – by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.
Ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, the anti-poverty charity Oxfam said it would use its high-profile role at the gathering to demand urgent action to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
The charity’s research, published today, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.
Oxfam added that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.
Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International and one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF, said the increased concentration of wealth seen since the deep recession of 2008-09 was dangerous and needed to be reversed.
In an interview with the Guardian, Byanyima said: “We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders.
“The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”
Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.
Byanyima said: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”
Separate research by the Equality Trust, which campaigns to reduce inequality in the UK, found that the richest 100 families in Britain in 2008 had seen their combined wealth increase by at least £15bn, a period during which average income increased by £1,233. Britain’s current richest 100 had the same wealth as 30% of UK households, it added.
Inequality has moved up the political agenda over the past half-decade amid concerns that the economic recovery since the global downturn of 2008-09 has been accompanied by a squeeze on living standards and an increase in the value of assets owned by the rich, such as property and shares.
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