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Growing gap between rich and poor is fuelling anger in France - Oxfam

French President Emmanuel Macron won't be attending this year economic summit in Davos
French President Emmanuel Macron won't be attending this year economic summit in Davos REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The world's 26 richest people own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity, Oxfam said Monday. In France, a third of the country's wealth is in the hands of just eight billionaires. The charity has urged governments to increase taxes on the wealthy to fight soaring inequality.


A new report from the charity, published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, also found that billionaires around the world saw their combined fortunes grow by $2.5 billion each day in 2018.

The world's richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saw his fortune increase to $112 billion last year, Oxfam said, pointing out that just one percent of his wealth was the equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.

Meanwhile, the 3.8 billion people at the bottom of the scale saw their wealth decline by 11 percent last year, Oxfam said, stressing that the growing gap between rich and poor was undermining the fight against poverty, damaging economies and fuelling public anger.

"People across the globe are angry and frustrated," warned Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima in a statement.

Growing inequality in France

“France has seen the greatest increase in the number of millionaires after the United States," Pauline Leclere, spokesperson for Oxfam said in Davos. "A third of France’s wealth is now in the hands of just eight billionaires.”

"President Emmanuel Macron never misses an oportunity to denounce the increase in inequality, he even decided to make it a central theme of G7 - which he is now presiding - and yet he continues to defend a fiscal policy which benefits the richest 1 percent."

Leclère said there was growing intolerance for the growing gap between rich and poor, citing the Yellow Vest movement as "an expression of anger against a sentiment of fiscal injustice".

The Yellow Vest movement has been rocking France with anti-government protests since November and is demanding that President Emmanuel Macron repeal controversial cuts to wealth taxes on high earners.

"It's an appeal for a redistribution of wealth, fairer plicies, and for those that have more to contribute more," Leclère said. "It's also an appeal for quality public services becuase we know the decisive role they have on poor, vulnerable people. They're sending a signal to the government and big companies that they want a different model which allows for better distribution of wealth."

Under-taxing the rich

Calls for hiking rates on the wealthy have multiplied amid growing popular outrage in a number of countries over swelling inequality.

In the United States, new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines earlier this month by proposing to tax the ultra-rich up to 70 percent.

The self-described Democratic Socialist's proposal came after President Donald Trump's sweeping tax reforms cut the top rate last year from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.

"The super-rich and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades," the Oxfam report said, pointing out that "the human costs -- children without teachers, clinics without medicines -- are huge".

"Piecemeal private services punish poor people and privilege elites," it said, stressing that every day, some 10,000 people die due to lacking access to affordable healthcare.

The report, released as the world's rich, famous and influential began arriving for the plush annual gathering at the luxury Swiss ski resort town, urged governments to "stop the race to the bottom" in taxing rich individuals and big corporations.

(with AFP)

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