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Challenging extreme economic inequality

Economic inequality is a problem in the UK. It has grown under successive governments for the last quarter of a century. The poorest families have increasingly lost out on the benefits of economic growth, while the very wealthiest have seen their incomes spiral upwards.

Oxfam research has shown that the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the entire population. That's just five households with more money than 12.6 million people -almost the same as the number of people living below the poverty line in the UK.

The gap is widening. In the last twenty years, incomes for the bottom 90 per cent of the country increased by a quarter. In the same time, the richest 0.1 percent saw their income double- four times the increase of the bottom 90 percent of the population.

The concentration of wealth and power at the top has real impact on people's lives and is a sign of economic sickness - it slows down growth, meaning there is less money to go into essential services for the people who need them most. We work with people fighting poverty every day - closing the inequality gap from the bottom up by lifting them out of poverty in both our work in the UK and internationally. We're calling for the Scottish and Welsh governments and the new London mayor to tackle inequality and focus on reducing poverty in the UK.

Inequality in the UK – Ensuring the economy works for everyone

Oxfam believes that three decades of high levels of inequality have had a profound impact on politics and society. Increasing concentrations of wealth and poverty supports Theresa May's view that some places haven't benefitted from economic growth. Many people believe that they have little stake in society and feel locked out of both politics and economic opportunity. The inability of employment to offer a guaranteed route out of poverty for millions illustrates the extent to which the economy isn't working for everyone. Oxfam believes the new Prime Minister must tackle bad behaviour in business and prioritise efforts to address inequality and disadvantage to help reunite the country.

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Download the media brief

Look out for our full report, published with the London School of Economics, in November

Even it up: Scotland

Around one in five people in Scotland live in poverty, and recently there has been a large increase in the number of people needing emergency food support. Oxfam argues that this is not a problem of scarcity, but of unequal wealth distribution.

Oxfam is asking all parties in the Scottish Parliament to take action in a number of areas, including decent work, hunger, climate change, participative government and international aid.

In a report written ahead of the Scottish election in May 2016, Oxfam Scotland sets out it's policy priorities for the Scottish Parliament, and urges it to use is powers to reduce inequality and poverty, both at home in Scotland and abroad.


"The surge in the number of people seeking emergency food support in Scotland is perhaps the clearest sign that our economic model and system of social security are failing too many people. Poverty in Scotland is not an issue of scarcity; it is about how income and wealth are shared.

"We urge all parties in the Scottish Parliament to outline clear and robust policies for reducing inequality and poverty - including how they will use devolved powers to address food insecurity and enhance the quality of paid work. Parties must also recognise that poverty extends beyond money: it also causes and exacerbates inequalities of influence. We must do more in Scotland to challenge unequal power by amplifying the voice of people in poverty within decision-making.


"This policy paper, brings together and updates our ongoing advocacy work. We hope to influence the policy positions adopted by all parties both now and in the future. Oxfam will do all we can to ensure Scotland contributes to a world without poverty."

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland

Read the report

Even it up: Wales

Around one-in-four households in Wales live in relative poverty, meaning they can often struggle with the basics, like paying their bills or regularly putting hot meals on the table. In fact, over the last decade we've seen little change in Welsh poverty levels, the use of emergency food banks is disproportionately high and in-work poverty is on the rise, while rates of pay have remained low and unchanged for the past decade.

In Wales, the wealthiest 16% of people have as much wealth as everyone else put together.

Wales Even it up video screenshot

Oxfam Cymru - Even It Up: Blueprint for Change

It used to be that getting a job was the best route out of poverty - and while this should still be the case, for many people in Wales it isn't. Half of those families in relative poverty have someone earning a salary. Ahead of the Welsh Elections in 2016, Even it up: A Blueprint for Change - set out Oxfam Cymru's policy calls to help the Welsh Government respond to these challenges - making sure we tackle poverty and economic inequality at home and overseas.

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London mayor

London is the UK's richest city and a driver of its economy, but also home to the country's greatest extremes of poverty and wealth. Around 2.3m people live below the poverty line in London - 27 % of the population, compared with 20%in the rest of England.

The mayoralty of London is one of the most important public positions in the UK. It has the potential to tackle inequality, and can be an authoritative voice about policies that the national government should apply specifically to London.

Kate Wiggins/Oxfam

Oxfam thinks there is a need for an 'Inequality Commissioner for London', with a remit to:

  1. Develop a strategy to address economic inequalities and poverty
  2. Develop a 'decent work standard'
  3. Consider the role of London's financial sector in relation to global inequalities

It's very encouraging that Sadiq Khan has committed to establishing an 'economic fairness' team in City Hall, which will promote the living wage and access to good quality apprenticeships, while also encouraging positive business behaviour. But economic fairness also means ensuring that the huge wealth of London is used in an equitable way to reduce poverty and support long-term, sustainable opportunities for everyone living and working in the city.

We hope the 'economic fairness' team can cover the remit we set out for an Inequality Commissioner, and consider the economy of the city explicitly through the lens of inequality. We need big, bold ideas, from looking at wealth and property taxes to the role of tax havens and a focus on employment in London.

The Mayor needs to go beyond only supporting the London Living Wage and start thinking about employment as a whole - to develop a decent work standard that supports sustainable employment with good conditions and progression routes for those who are on lower incomes.

It also means recognising that extreme inequality limits the opportunities of those at the bottom, like the 100,000 people relying on emergency food bank parcels in the last year. High levels of inequality make the city as a whole more expensive, pushing more people into poverty and holding back the productivity that makes the city successful.

Rachael Orr, head of the UK programme.

Working hard, but still struggling

Lorna is a 36-year-old mum living in Tower Hamlets, one of London poorest boroughs. She works as a dinner lady for 16 hours a week while her sons are at school. "Life is difficult," she says. "I'm still living day to day, and essentials like school uniform put me into financial worry as I know I can't afford them." Lorna was supported by Oxfam's partner, First Love Foundation, which provides food, support and advice in Tower Hamlets. But far too many other people go without help.

Kayte Brimacombe

How can people be poor, even when they work hard? Factors like low pay and a lack of secure jobs mean that for far too many Londoners, employment doesn't offer the route out of poverty that it should.

The London Mayor has the potential to tackle the kinds of inequality that keep millions of people trapped in poverty.

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