New Oxfam report: Richest 1% own more than the rest of us—and Africans have as much as 30% of their wealth in tax havens

The inequality in South Africa is particularly staggering: just two men own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the population.

THE richest one percent of the world’s population now own more than the rest of us combined, aid group Oxfam said Monday, on the eve of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

“Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population—a figure that has fallen from 388 just five years ago,” the anti-poverty agency said in its report published ahead of the annual gathering of the world’s financial and political elites in Davos.

The report, titled “An Economy for the 1%” (pdf), states that women are disproportionately affected by the global inequality.

“One of the other key trends behind rising inequality set out in Oxfam International’s report is the falling share of national income going to workers in almost all developed and most developing countries… The majority of low paid workers around the world are women.”

Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality “the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months,” Oxfam said.

Oxfam’s prediction, made ahead of last year’s Davos meeting, that the richest one percent would soon own more than the rest of us, “actually came true in 2015,” it added—a year earlier.

While the number of people living in extreme poverty halved between 1990 and 2010, the average annual income of the poorest 10% has risen by less than $3-a-year in the past quarter of a century, a increase in individuals’ income of less than one cent a year, the report said.

Heads of state

More than 40 heads of state and government will attend the Davos forum which begins late Tuesday and will end on January 23.

Those heading to the Swiss resort town for the high-level annual gathering also include 2,500 “leaders from business and society”, the WEF said in an earlier statement.

Describing the theme—the Fourth Industrial Revolution—WEF founder Klaus Shwab has said it “refers to the fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds which is creating entirely new capabilities and dramatic impacts on political, social and economic systems.”

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, who will also attend Davos having co-chaired last year’s event, said: “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world’s population owns no more than a few dozen super-rich people who could fit onto one bus.”

World leaders’ concerns about the escalating inequality crisis have “so far not translated into concrete action—the world has become a much more unequal place and the trend is accelerating,” she warned.

As a priority, Oxfam is calling for an end to the era of tax havens which has seen the increasing use of offshore centres to avoid paying taxes.

“This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality,” the report said.

Offshore African wealth

As much as 30% of all African financial wealth is estimated to be held offshore, it added, costing an estimated $14 billion in lost tax revenues every year.

The inequality in South Africa is particularly staggering: The richest 10% of the country’s population (3.7 million people) had an income of $36 billion, while the poorest 50% (19 million people) had an income of only $9 billion, meaning some 3.7 million mainly White people earned four times more than 19 million mainly Black people, according to a statement from Oxfam South Africa.

By 2011, the richest 10% of the South African population had an income of $69 billion, while the poorest 50% had an income of $11 billion. Five million still mainly White people were now earning six times more than 25 million mainly Black people.

And in 2014 two White men (Johan Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer) were found to own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the population, even as the group noted this spoke “to asset and not income inequality.”

Getting hold of the proper level of taxes will be “vital” if world leaders are to meet their goal, set last September, of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

‘End tax havens’

Byanyima challenged those attending the Davos meeting “to play their part in ending the era of tax havens, which is fuelling economic inequality and preventing hundreds of millions of people lifting themselves out of poverty”.

Of the 62 people said to hold as much wealth as the poorest 50%, Oxfam said that 53 are men and just nine are female, highlighting that women are ill-represented even at the highest levels.

The headline Davos guests include British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Vice President Joe Biden, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

President Mauricio Marci of Argentina, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alexis Tsipars, the Greek prime minister, are also due to attend.

Oxfam said it had calculated the wealth of the richest 62 people using Forbes’ billionaires list. 

—(AFP, additional info by M&G Africa)

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