Part of the inequality problem

January 15, 2015
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Part of the inequality problem
op-ed by Julie Delahanty

Originally published in Embassy News – 01/14/2015

A new global poll from GlobeScan affirms what many Canadians feel intuitively and know factually. The gap between rich and poor is rapidly increasing and economic inequality has reached extreme levels.

In South Africa, a platinum miner would need to work for 93 years just to earn the average CEO’s annual bonus. In Ghana, the poorest families pay 40 per cent of their income to send one child to school. In Europe, austerity measures and cuts to services mean women with young children are more likely than any other demographic group to be unemployed. Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, has 41 of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities and saw a million murders take place between 2000 and 2011.

Extreme inequality is bad for everyone. Countries that are more unequal have higher crime rates, particularly violent crime, and more social instability, including mental illness, incarceration and addiction. Extreme inequality is bad for growth, for democracy, for women, for our health and for the environment. Most importantly, the rapid increase in inequality is standing in the way of eliminating poverty.

The impact of economic inequality on other inequalities, particularly between men and women, is profound. If the status quo were to continue unabated, it would take 75 years before the world’s women are paid the same as men. In Canada, women continue to make 20 per cent less than their male counterparts for the same work.

The GlobeScan poll of 24,000 citizens across 24 countries, including Canada, documents deep concern about poverty and economic unfairness. The majority of those surveyed in 15 of the 24 countries polled see issues of poverty and homelessness as very serious problems (an average of over 80 per cent see poverty and homelessness as somewhat serious).

Inequality is a global problem and Canada is a part of it. The richest 85 people on the planet own as much as the poorest half of humanity. In Canada, the top 10 per cent of the population holds more wealth than the rest of the population combined. In the GlobeScan survey, 87 per cent of Canadian respondents said that poverty and homelessness are somewhat or very serious. Eighty-one per cent said that unemployment is somewhat or very serious. And 79 per cent of Canadians polled said that the issue of economic inequality is somewhat or very serious.

People throughout the world know that there is something inherently unfair and morally wrong with an extreme gap between rich and poor. This concern about inequality is found across different cultures and societies, suggesting a fundamental human preference for fairness and equality.

This poll is simply the latest evidence that citizens around the world want the searing impacts of inequality and poverty addressed. Our leaders, in government and the private sector, must listen and act in response to the gathering storm of inequality.

When asked who should lead on enhancing economic justice, social justice and equality, citizens look primarily to governments. In Canada, 56 per cent of respondents look to the government for leadership, with only 16 per cent identifying large companies as the primary actor.

On Jan. 21, world leaders will gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. The forum will be co-chaired by Oxfam International’s Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, and inequality will be front and centre on the agenda.

The forum is an opportunity to courageously and diplomatically confront some of the most powerful people on the planet about extreme inequality. And it’s a time to call on governments to act on the viable policy solutions that are ready for implementation.

Canada has led in many of these solutions and can redouble its efforts at home and abroad to: support universal access to public health and education; fight for greater tax fairness; close international tax loopholes; implement a universal social protection standard; promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights; and target development finance toward reducing inequality and strengthening the compact between government and citizens.

There is nothing inevitable about inequality. Poverty and inequality exist because of the choices we make. People around the world are calling on governments to make better choices today for far better lives tomorrow.

Julie Delahanty is Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director.

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