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February 2020

RICHEST 1% OWN MORE THAN TWICE AS MUCH WEALTH AS 6.9 BILLION PEOPLE

The world’s top 22 richest men have now more wealth than all the women in Africa, says an Oxfam report.

By Countercurrents Collective 

A super-rich one percent of the world’s population has accumulated twice as much wealth as the remaining 90%, said a new report by Oxfam, a global charity. The report has been released on 20 January 2020 on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The gap between the filthy rich and the rest of humanity has reached grotesque proportions, according to the report.

The report, Time to Care, focuses on the largely unpaid care work many women and girls take upon themselves.

The report said: The world’s top 22 richest men have now more wealth than all the women in Africa.

It added: At the bottom of the economy, women and girls, especially women and girls living in poverty and from marginalized groups, are putting in 12.5 billion hours every day of care work for free, and countless more for poverty wages. Their work is essential to our communities. It underpins thriving families and a healthy and productive workforce.

The report said: This great divide is based on a flawed and sexist economic system that values the wealth of the privileged few, mostly men, more than the billions of hours of the most essential work – the unpaid and underpaid care work done primarily by women and girls around the world. Tending to others, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood are essential daily tasks for the wellbeing of societies, communities and the functioning of the economy. The heavy and unequal responsibility of care work perpetuates gender and economic inequalities.

It said: This broken economic model has accumulated vast wealth and power into the hands of a rich few, in part by exploiting the labor of women and girls, and systematically violating their rights.

Only 2,153

There are only 2,153 billionaires in the world, according to the report, but their wealth matches that of more than 4.6 billion people, or about 62% of the world’s population, estimated to stand at 7.7 billion.

The gap between the wealthy and all those who fare less well looks even more prominent if to compare the combined income of the richest of the rich – the top one percent – to that of some 6.9 billion people.

According to the report, the one-percenters boast more twice as much wealth as nearly 90 percent of the global population.

It said: At the top of the global economy a small elite are unimaginably rich. Their wealth grows exponentially over time, with little effort, and regardless of whether they add value to society.

Tax the rich

Oxfam said: The only way to tackle inequality is to raise taxes. Taxing additional 0.5% of wealth of the top 1% over the next decade will provide governments with enough funds to create 117 million of jobs in health, education, elderly care and other sectors.

It said: Governments must act now to build a human economy that is feminist and values what truly matters to society, rather than fuelling an endless pursuit of profit and wealth. Investing in national care systems to address the disproportionate responsibility for care work done by women and girls and introducing progressive taxation, including taxing wealth and legislating in favor of carers, are possible and crucial first steps

It added: One reason for these outsized returns is a collapse in taxation of the super-rich and the biggest corporations because of falling tax rates and deliberate tax dodging. At the same time, only 4% of global tax comes from taxation of wealth, and studies show that the super-rich avoid as much as 30% of their tax liability. Extremely low corporate taxation helps them cream the profits from companies where they are the main shareholders; between 2011 and 2017 average wages in G7 countries increased by 3%, while dividends to wealthy shareholders grew by 31%.

While Oxfam did not call any names in its report, it appeared to have taken a thinly-veiled jab at Amazon CEO and founder of Blue Origin space company Jeff Bezos, the on-and-off planet’s richest man, who, however, slipped to the second place this week, behind the chairman and CEO of French luxury giant LVMH Bernard Arnault.

Less than $5.50 a day

The report cited World Bank estimates: Almost half of the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 a day, and the rate of poverty reduction has halved since 2013.

The Oxfam report said: Many people are just one hospital bill or failed harvest away from destitution. Inequality is one of the major reasons for this; a huge share of global income growth consistently accrues to those at the top, leaving those at the bottom further and further behind.

The report cites Thomas Piketty and his team: Between 1980 and 2016, the richest 1% received 27 cents of each dollar of global income growth. This was more than twice the share of the bottom 50%, who secured only 12 cents of every dollar.

The report said:

§     If you saved $10,000 a day since the building of the pyramids in Egypt, you would have one-fifth the average fortune of the 5 richest billionaires.

§     If everyone were to sit on their wealth piled up in $100 bills, most of humanity would be sitting on the floor. A middle-class person in a rich country would be sitting at the height of a chair. The world’s two richest men would be sitting in outer space.

§     The monetary value of women’s unpaid care work globally for women aged 15 and over is at least $10.8 trillion annually – three times the size of the world’s tech industry.

§     The very top of the economic pyramid sees trillions of dollars of wealth in the hands of a very small group of people, predominantly men. Their wealth is already extreme, and our broken economy concentrates more and more wealth into these few hands.

§     Recently some commentators have asked whether it would be better for the world to ‘abolish billionaires’, suggesting that they are a sign of economic sickness rather than economic health.

§     It has been estimated that one-third of billionaire wealth exists because of inheritance. Such levels of inheritance have created a new aristocracy that undermines democracy. Once secured, the fortunes of the super-rich take on a momentum of their own; the wealthiest people can simply sit back and watch their wealth grow, with the help of highly paid accountants who have delivered them an average annual return of 7.4% on their wealth over the last ten years. Despite admirably committing to give his money away, Bill Gates is still worth nearly $100bn, which is twice what he had when he stood down as head of Microsoft.

§     As well as doing care work for free at home, many poor women also work providing care for others, for example as domestic workers, who are among the most exploited workers in the world. Just 10% of domestic workers are covered by general labor laws to the same extent as other workers, and only around half enjoy equal minimum wage protection. More than half of all domestic workers have no limits on work hours under national law. In the most extreme cases of forced labor and trafficking, domestic workers find themselves trapped in people’s homes with every aspect of their lives controlled, rendering them invisible and unprotected. It is estimated that globally, the 3.4 million domestic workers in forced labor are being robbed of $8bn every year, equating to 60% of their due wages.

§     Recognize unpaid and poorly paid care work, which is done primarily by women and girls, as a type of work or production that has real value.

§     Reduce the total number of hours spent on unpaid care tasks through better access to affordable and quality timesaving devices and care-supporting infrastructure.

§     Redistribute unpaid care work more fairly within the household and simultaneously shift the responsibility of unpaid care work to the state and the private sector.

§     Represent the most marginalized caregivers and ensure that they have a voice in the design and delivery of policies, services and systems that affect their lives. Change is possible. From Engna Legna Besdet bringing together Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon, to the Domestic Workers Rising campaign in South Africa, women are demanding change and claiming their rights. And governments are starting to listen. Uruguay’s groundbreaking national integrated care enshrines the right to care and be cared for, as well as care workers’ rights, and New Zealand introduced a celebrated wellbeing budget in 2019. But more action is needed.

§     Over the past decade leading academics, and even mainstream economic institutions such as the IMF, have produced robust evidence of the corrosive effects of inequality. Affected communities, activists, women’s rights organizations and faith leaders have spoken out and have campaigned for change around the world. Recent protests, for example against inequality and climate chaos, from Chile to Germany, are huge.

§     Mainstream economic meetings, such as those of the IMF and the World Economic Forum, have placed economic inequality on their agendas time and again. However, the inequality crisis remains fundamentally unaddressed. The reality is that most world leaders are still pursuing policy agendas that drive greater gaps between the haves and the havenots. Leaders like President Trump in the USA and President Bolsonaro in Brazil are exemplars of this trend, offering regressive policy menus like tax cuts for billionaires, obstructing measures to tackle the climate emergency or turbo charging racism, sexism and hatred of minorities. Crucially, today’s economic system is built on sexism.

Recommendations

Oxfam has proposed the following six actions to help realize the rights of carers and to start closing the gap between unpaid and underpaid care workers and the wealthy elite who have profited most from their labor.

The report’s recommendations are:

1)             Invest in national care systems to address the disproportionate responsibility for care work done by women and girls:

Governments must invest in cross-governmental national care systems, in addition to investing in and transforming existing public services and infrastructure. National care systems must include the provision of universal access to safe water, sanitation and domestic energy systems, and investments to deliver universal childcare, eldercare and care for people with disabilities. These should also include access to quality healthcare and education, as well as the provision of universal social protection, such as pensions and child benefits. As part of national care systems governments must ensure a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and the progressive realization of one year of paid parental leave, including a phase of use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave.

2) End extreme wealth to end extreme poverty: Extreme wealth is a sign of a failing economic system. Governments must take steps to radically reduce the gap between the rich and the rest of society and prioritize the wellbeing of all citizens over unsustainable growth and profit, to avoid a world that caters only to a privileged few and consigns millions of people to poverty. Governments must take bold and decisive steps by taxing wealth and high incomes and cracking down on loopholes and the inadequate global tax rules that allow rich corporations and individuals to escape their tax responsibilities.

3) Legislate to protect the rights of all carers and secure living wages for paid care workers:

As part of their national care systems, governments must ensure legal, economic and labor market policies are in place to protect the rights of all carers and paid care workers, in both formal and informal sectors and monitor their implementation. This must include ratifying ILO Convention 189 on the protection of domestic workers and policy to ensure that all care workers are paid a living wage and working towards the elimination of gender wage gaps.

4) Ensure that carers have influence on decision-making processes:

Governments must facilitate the participation of unpaid carers and care workers in policy-making fora and processes at all levels, and invest resources into collecting comprehensive data that can better inform policymaking and evaluate the impact of policies on carers. This should be alongside consulting women’s rights actors, feminist economists and civil society experts on care issues, and increased funding for women’s organizations and movements working to enable their participation in decision-making processes. These measures are important building blocks of national care systems.

5) Challenge harmful norms and sexist beliefs:

Harmful norms and sexist beliefs that see care work as the responsibility of women and girls lead to an unequal gendered distribution of care work, and perpetuate economic and gender inequality. As part of their national care systems governments need to invest resources to challenge these harmful norms and sexist beliefs, including through advertising, public communication and legislation. Further, men need to step up to equally fulfill their responsibilities on care work to address the disproportionate amount of care done by women within households and communities.

6) Value care in business policies and practices: Businesses must recognize the value of care work and sustain the wellbeing of workers. Further, they should support the redistribution of care through the provision of benefits and services such as crèches and childcare vouchers and ensure living wages for care providers. Companies and business should assume their responsibility for contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by paying their fair share of taxes, implementing family-friendly employment practices such as flexible working hours and paid leave, and using progressive advertising and public communication to challenge the gendered distribution of care work.

A broken economy

The report said:

“If the economic system is left to distribute the fruits of growth so unevenly, we will never eliminate poverty.”

“Unequal and unbridled growth is also unsustainable and makes it impossible to live within the environmental boundaries of our planet.”

“Economic inequality is also built on gender inequality, and the majority of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid are women. Women and girls are more likely to be found in poorly paid and precarious employment, and they do the bulk of unpaid and underpaid care work.”

“The dominant model of capitalism actively exploits and drives traditional sexist beliefs that disempower women and girls, counting on them to do this work, but refusing to value them for it.”

Commenting on the findings, Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said that while unpaid or poorly paid care work mostly done by women serves as the “hidden engine” that fuels the global economy, “broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women.” – Third World Network Features.

-ends-


The above article is reproduced from Countercurrents.org, 20 January 2020.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings. And if reproduced on the internet, please send the web link where the article appears to twn@twnetwork.org.

 

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