Every January we get a glimpse into a different world. A world of billionaires, of business and political elites, mingling in the expensive Swiss mountain resort of Davos for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, writes Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland.
MANY of the billionaires attending Davos were born lucky. Lucky to be born a man – 9 out of 10 billionaires are men; lucky to be born into a wealthy family – a third of billionaire fortune is the result of inheritance, and lucky to get a decent education in a world where 262 million children don’t go to school.
In Oxfam, we continually get a glimpse into the lives of those who were not born so lucky and who rely on public services like healthcare and education to lift themselves out of poverty.
Roberta, a police officer from Nairobi in Kenya, recently gave birth to twins in Kenyatta National Hospital but tragically lost both babies due to complications.
Unable to pay the hospital bill, Roberta was held captive by the hospital and unable to bury her children – the authorities refused to release their bodies – until the amount was paid.
This is the other world that more than 3.8 billion people are forced to inhabit.
Rising inequality is undermining our fight to beat poverty. Over the last 30 years, we have halved extreme poverty, but our latest inequality report – Public Good or Private Wealth? – shows this progress has disturbingly slowed – the rate of reduction has halved since 2013 and extreme poverty is actually increasing in sub-Saharan Africa.
This is the stark truth: the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by 12 percent or $2.5 billion (€2.2billion) a day last year.
In Ireland, the wealth of a handful of billionaires – most of whom are men – increased by €15.8 billion over the last 10 years, throughout the leanest years of the recession.
Meanwhile, the 3.8 billion poorest half of humanity saw their wealth shrink by 11 percent.
Just under half the world’s population subsists on less than $5.50 (less than €5) a day – one school fee or medical bill away from falling more deeply into poverty.
This extreme and growing gap between rich and poor is no accident. It is the result of policy decisions made by governments. Chief among them are decisions about how governments raise and spend our taxes.
In some countries, such as Brazil, the poorest 10 percent of society are paying a higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest 10 percent.
Governments add insult to injury when they fail to clamp down on tax dodging, leaving wealthy corporations and individuals to pocket billions in unpaid taxes.
Poor countries lose around $170 billion a year as a result of tax dodging by wealthy individuals and corporations.
At the same time, governments are allowing vital public services such as healthcare and education to crumble for want of funds or outsourcing these services to private companies that exclude the poorest.
These services are the foundations on which people can work their way out of poverty and they’re increasingly out of reach of ordinary people.
As one American billionaire remarked in a recent opinion piece:
Always, it is women and girls who are hardest hit. While women’s work is the bedrock of our economies, they do not see the benefits. Globally men earn 23 percent more than women and own 50 percent more wealth.
Changing this situation means a better life for women and girls who are the most impacted by inequality that fuels the lack of access to free, high-quality, humane public services.
In Uganda, where Oxfam Ireland works, it is girls who are pulled out of school when money isn’t available to pay fees and women who spend countless hours caring for children, the sick and elderly when public services fail.
We know change is possible. When the government of Ghana dropped fees for senior high school in September 2017, 90,000 more students walked through the school doors.
To achieve this change, everyone, including big businesses and wealthy individuals, must pay their fair share of tax. This means ending tax avoidance and evasion by corporations and the wealthy.
Ireland has an important role to play in this regard in agreeing a new, fair set of global rules and institutions to fundamentally redesign the corporate tax system, with developing countries having an equal seat at the table.
These rules would include increased transparency of multinational corporations’ (MNCs) tax affairs and implementing effective mechanisms to end profit shifting by MNCs in Ireland and abroad.
This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Dáil, when our leaders laid out a progressive vision on income and wealth equality, declaring a desire to be ruled by the principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all.
This vision still resonates in Ireland and around the world and it’s time it was fully realised.
Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland and alongside University College Cork’s (UCC) Dr. Fiona Dukelow and Colette Cunningham, Jim Clarken will be speaking at UCC on Thursday 24 January from 6pm-8pm about how to reduce the gap in global inequality through investment in public services. This is a free event, open to everyone. For more see here