The world’s 26 richest people now own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity, with inequality spiralling out of control.
That means just 26 individuals are as wealthy as 3.8 billion people.
NGO Oxfam warned on Monday that the massive wealth discrepancy was stoking popular anger and threatening democracies.
“We are seeing rich people running away with wealth and poor people sinking in poverty,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said.
A new report from the charity was published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — a week-long meeting of the global elite, with three of the 26 richest people set to attend.
The report found that billionaires around the world saw their combined fortunes grow by $2.5 billion ($A3.492 billion) each day in 2018, an annual increase of 12 per cent, and urged governments to slap more taxes on the wealthy.
The world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saw his fortune increase to $112 billion last year, Oxfam said, pointing out that just one per cent of his wealth was the equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
“Oxfam is saying in this report with evidence that extreme inequality is out of control,” Ms Byanyima said.
The 3.8 billion people at the bottom of the scale meanwhile saw their relative wealth decline by $500 million ($A698.3 million) each day, or 11 per cent last year, Oxfam said, stressing that the growing gap between rich and poor was undermining the fight against poverty, damaging economies and fuelling public anger.
The report also revealed the number of billionaires in Australia had increased from 33 to 43, with the elite group boasting a combined wealth of nearly $160 billion last year.
Chief executive of Oxfam Australia Helen Szoke told the ABC despite our country’s vast wealth, inequality still dogged Australia.
“The wealth of the bottom half of our community has not changed and ordinary workers’ wage growth has remained stagnant,” Dr Szoke told the ABC.
Dr Szoke added the Federal Government needed to crack down on multinationals which might still be dodging tax.
‘ELITES RUNNING AWAY WITH WEALTH’
“Citizens are angry and frustrated,” Ms Byanyima said.
“They are seeing themselves working really hard, but they are seeing that… the things that they expect, a good education for their children, health when they fall ill, social protection when they get older… aren’t there for them.”
At the same time, she said, “they are seeing a few people running away with wealth and without paying their fair share.”
The numbers are stark: Between 1980 and 2016, the poorest half of humanity pocketed just 12 cents on each dollar of global income growth, compared with the 27 cents ($A37 cents) captured by the top one per cent, the report found.
Oxfam warned that governments were exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services like healthcare and education at the same time as they consistently under-tax the wealthy.
Calls for hiking taxes on the wealthy have multiplied amid growing popular outrage in a number of countries over swelling inequality.
In the United States, new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines earlier this month by proposing to tax the ultra-rich up to 70 per cent.
The self-described Democratic Socialist’s proposal came after President Donald Trump’s sweeping tax reforms cut the top income rate last year from 39.6 per cent to 37 per cent.
In Europe, the “yellow vest” movement that has been rocking France with anti-government protests since November is demanding that President Emmanuel Macron repeal controversial cuts to wealth taxes on high earners.
And in Britain, a populist campaign helped persuade a majority of voters to opt for quitting the European Union in the country’s 2016 referendum on Brexit.
“The super-rich and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades,” the Oxfam report said, pointing out that “the human costs — children without teachers, clinics without medicines — are huge”.
INEQUALITY UNDERMINING DEMOCRACY
Ms Byanyima lamented that governments faced with growing public anger are taking dangerous shortcuts.
“Instead of solving the problem by fixing the economies, making them work for most people, (they) are finding distractions,” she said, pointing to scapegoating of immigrants and other outsiders for social ills.
“Inequality is undermining democracy,” she said, warning that “politics (have become) poisonous.”
The Oxfam report said “piecemeal private services punish poor people and privileged elites,” stressing that every day, some 10,000 people die due to lacking access to affordable healthcare.
The report, released as the world’s rich, famous and influential began arriving for the annual gathering at the luxury Swiss ski resort town, urged governments to “stop the race to the bottom” in taxing rich individuals and big corporations.
Oxfam found that asking the richest to pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth “could raise more money than it would cost to educate all 262 million children out of school and provide healthcare that would save the lives of 3.3 million people”.