In time for the World Economic Forum’s 2014 meeting in the exclusive Swiss ski resort Davos, internationally renowned charity Oxfam has exposed a shocking statistic. According to their review, titled ‘Working for the Few’, it has been revealed that 85 of the world’s richest people have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest.
The Oxfam report, revealed last Monday, states a handful of mega rich business men and women have amassed a fortune accounting for half of the world’s wealth, roughly $1.7tn (£1tn). The report also revealed that ‘the 1 per cent’ or global elite have a net worth of $110tn (£60.9tn) or 50 per cent of the world’s wealth. This equates to 65 times the total wealth of the poorest. The analysis argues that such concentration of wealth will eventually lead to political instability. It claims this will then lead to social tension around the globe, albeit recognising that economic inequality is imperative in driving ‘growth and progress’.
These multi-billionaires include Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim ($73bn) who bags first place on Forbes list of billionaires, Microsoft founder Bill Gates ($67bn) second and Zara owner Amancio Ortega ($57bn) third. The list also includes the Duke of Westminster ($11.4bn), owner of the Grosvenor Estate, as Britain’s wealthiest resident.
In aid of tackling inequality the development charity is advocating the influential attendees of the WEF conference (including David Cameron and George Osborne) to help establish social and economic parity. Oxfam encourages ‘investment in universal access to healthcare and education’ which I think is great.
The report also suggests wealth and politics go hand in hand, condemning ‘the power of the rich to influence political processes’. Although such things exist, proven by Labour’s shameful cash-for-peerages scandal, I do believe the congruence between wealth and political power is in decline. Now more than ever in Great Britain power is in the hands of the hard-working people. In a recent opinion poll 67 per cent of Britons agreed that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed” with just 10 per cent disagreeing. I know the majority of pragmatists would rather vote someone wealthy with a better understanding of what they’re doing in than someone who isn’t ‘rich’ for that very reason. Imagine a society where ‘White Dee’ from Channel 4’s Benefit Street or Joe Blog sat in the cabinet, how much more austerity and hardship would taxpaying citizens face?
There are also many Britons supporting equality who mock a meritocratic society. The Baroness Scotland who is set to talk at the York Union today (Friday 24th) is an example of what Britain is about. Along with Privy Councillor and former Minister with Portfolio Sayeeda Warsi, who classes herself as ‘a northern working class mum’, these women of working class roots have earned their way to seats in the Lord’s influencing public policy. If anything the gap between the rich and poor is closing in the UK. Social mobility and economic disparity is diminishing with the help of widening opportunity efforts set in place by those in power.
The number of bursaries, grants and hardship funds available at York are increasing thus helping to level the socio-economic playing field. The rising economies of China and India have allowed huge surges in their middle class. So is it fair to say only the rich are getting richer?
Of course I am compassionate, having witnessed extreme poverty first hand. But targeting only the mega rich may not be the only solution in narrowing the development gap. With Goldman Sachs reporting the cost to eradicate extreme poverty at $117bn, a mere 10 per cent of the 85’s wealth, it would seem to be an extremely viable option. However, are we as individuals doing all we can to help those who are so desperately in need? Instead of moaning about the ‘1 per cent’ being morally bankrupt we should be putting as much into helping those much less fortunate as we do criticising those who we think should be doing more. I’m almost certain many would be willing to part 10 per cent of their disposable funds for the well-being of humanity…or would they?