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Politics not economics key to inequality says research

BOSTON: July 17, 2017. Research by Oxfam suggests the poorest half of the world's population has received one percent of the total increase in global wealth since 2000, while the top one percent has received 50 percent.

According to a new "work in progress" index published by Oxfam and Development Finance International, no country is doing enough to reduce the gap between rich and poor, including social spending, taxation policies, and labor rights.

"While many leaders pay lip-service to the dangers of extreme inequality and the urgency to tackle it, this index shows that not one government is doing enough," said Paul O'Brien, vice president of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam America. "This is most certainly true here in the United States, where president Trump campaigned against what he called a 'rigged system' that favors the rich, but is now delivering the opposite."

OxfamDFI indexDFI and Oxfam say governments are not powerless to reverse a trend that the World Bank forecasts will see half a billion people still living in extreme poverty by 2030: "Our findings show that a number of governments including Sweden, Chile, Uruguay and Namibia have shown they can buck the trend of growing inequality by taking clear steps to reduce it."

Of the 152 countries surveyed, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark top the index (right) because of high levels of social spending and good protections for workers; while Nigeria, Bahrain and Myanmar come bottom due to "exceptionally low levels of government spending on health, education and social protection; an extremely bad record on labor and women's rights; and, particularly in the case of Bahrain and Nigeria, a tax system that overburdens the poorest in society and fails to tax its wealthiest citizens," according to the Oxfam/DFI report.

"Tackling inequality is about political will. Across the globe ordinary people are suffering the consequences of political failure in the form of underfunded schools, inadequate tax collection, and low paid insecure jobs," added DFI director Matthew Martin.

The U.S. ranks No. 23 behind France (No.8), Australia (No.14), Canada (No.15), the UK (No.17) and South Africa (No.21). One in four of the top 50 countries on the index are low or middle-income - suggesting tackling inequality is as much about politics as it is economics.

Oxfam and DFI estimate Trump's proposed policies on tax reform, social spending and labor rights could see the U.S. fall below Greece and Spain on future editions of the index.

"Our hope with this index is to build a public conversation about how to tackle this crisis. Governments need to build fairer tax systems, uphold the rights of workers, and invest more money in our public services, here at home and around the world," continued O'Brien. "It's time to make our economies work for all of us, not just a few."

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