As the World economic forum’s annual summit draws to a close, Oxfam have released a report including staggering new statistics concerning economic inequality. The charity states that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury have also warned that economic growth pursued maniacally has increased inequality, which has to be tackled.
Oxfam made similar statements last year ahead of the Davos summit, but the situation has only got worse. It seems that although wealth inequality may have moved up the political agenda effective action has not been taken. Furthermore, Oxfam’s report also indicates a rising use of money in lobbying government – especially in the United States where lobbying is concentrated largely on tax issues which ‘can directly undermine public interests’ (Oxfam report).
Winnie Byanyima (Executive director, Oxfam international) will be attending the annual meeting in Davos and in a report points out that “across rich and poor countries alike, this inequality is fuelling conflict, corroding democracies and damaging growth itself”. Evidently, wealth inequality in its extreme is detrimental to society and must change: emphasised further by the extent this money leads to political power: $50bn is spent by the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry on lobbying each year in the EU (data from Oxfam report).
If trends continue, inequality is only set to increase across the world. Oxfam predict that by 2016 the top 1% will have more than 50% of total global wealth, as figures also suggest the wealth of those at the bottom will decrease. The effects of inequality are also highlighted in Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s book ‘the spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better’ where it shows that for 11 key health/social problems (physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies and child well being) outcomes are significantly worse in unequal countries. Inequality impacts every aspect of society negatively, clearly something needs to be done to reverse it, quickly.
In terms of the UK, statistics have also been released today that for every 12 jobs created in the South 1 is lost in the North. Economic divides are regional too, and inequality exists in every neighbourhood. As Christians we can work to support those that are struggling in our communities and try and bridge the gap between the rich and poor through the church.
These facts are also particularly poignant in the wake of the launch of the ‘Show up’ campaign last Tuesday. This campaign is focused on getting Christians actively involved in influencing politics. As Christians, we are called to see ‘justice flow like a river’ (Amos 5:24), the current economic system is simply not delivering this and we need to affect change. Wealth is accumulated by the same few people, and power is concentrated among them – at the expense of everyone else.
Helping those suffering in our communities is important, influencing change is increasingly important, and getting on board with the ‘show up’ campaign is just one way we can attempt to change the political climate – determined ever more by statistics such as those released today, and enthused by the work of charities such as Oxfam that have a voice for the poor to the highest political positions In the world.