The number of billionaires worldwide have more than doubled, according to a new Oxfam report, Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality. The report details how the richest people in the world live in complete abundance, while millions remain poor without access to basic healthcare and affordable education.
Oxfam's New Zealand executive director, Rachael Le Mesurier, says the inequality is causing grave concerns. "Around the world millions of people are dying due to a lack of healthcare and millions of children are missing out on school, while as mall elite have more money than they could spend in a lifetime."
From the IMF to the Pope, from President Obama to the World Economic Forum, world leaders are becoming m ore vocal and agreeing that the inequality gap is a real threat. In response, Oxfam has started a campaign, also called Even it Up, to put pressure on leaders to act on what is already acknowledged as a major challenge for our time.
The organisation is calling on governments around the world to reassess the taxing systems to make sure the richest pay their fair share, invest more in healthcare and education, examine fair pay and the availability of sustainable jobs.
The Even it Up campaign aims to ensure the richest people's interests are no longer put ahead of the rest of the population. The recently released book by economist Thomas Piketty , Capital in the Twenty First Century, examines wealth and income disparity.
Piketty says inequality is no accident but rather an inevitable feature of capitalism, which can quickly become undesirable. "Inequality is desirable up to a point. But beyond a certain level it is useless. One of the key lessons of the 20th century is that you can have high growth without the inequality of the 19th century. "
Piketty believes the ideal solution is a progressive tax on individual net wealth, which "will foster wealth mobility and keep concentration under control and under public scrutiny".
The results of an unequal society was also outlined in The Spirit Level, by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, who wrote about inequality in New Zealand for Element last year.
Wilkinson says the more unequal a society is, the higher the social problems are. "There can no longer be any serious doubt that countries with large income differences between rich and poor are likely to perform socially and economically less well than more equal societies," he said.
"Bigger material differences between people create bigger social distances. Rising inequality seems to strengthen all the ways in which status and class imprint themselves on us from early childhood onwards. It is not surprising then that where inequality has increased, social mobility has slowed and equality of opportunity for children has become a more distant dream."
Le Mesurier says inequality hinders growth, corrupts politics, stifles opportunity and fuels instability while deepening discrimination, especially against women. This is a global trend. Extreme inequality is apparent in most countries. The wealth is not trickling down, and governments have had delayed reactions to the problem.
In South Africa, inequality is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid. And if India was to halt the recent increase in inequality, it could enable 90 million more out of extreme poverty by 2019.
Le Mesurier says Pacific Island communities in particular are experiencing extreme disparages between rich and poor. "The top 20% of people across the Pacific Island countries consume up to 12 times as much as the bottom 20% with levels of inequality highest in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji."
In New Zealand, the same inequality is being seen. Food banks are now in full swing - they were once non-existent just 40 years ago -with reliance on organisations like the Salvation Army rapidly increasing.
According to the most recent quality of life survey, the number of New Zealanders who don't have enough money to live on has doubled within the past two years. Despite this, New Zealand's wealth inequality is average for the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) according to Statistics New Zealand.