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Richest 1% owns 20 times more than UK’s poorest 20%

Oxfam calls on PM to set out plan to close Britain’s great divide in her conference speech

Theresa May should adopt a four point plan to ensure that companies are in the business of tackling inequality, Oxfam said today as it published a new briefing note setting out the shocking scale of inequality in the UK.

How to Close Great Britain’s Great Divide: The Business of Tacking Inequality, says the richest one percent of the population now owns more than 20 times more wealth than the poorest 20 percent of the population – nearly 13 million people – owns between them, and there is a massive disconnect between people with money and those without. The briefing warns that if action isn’t taken to reduce inequality then nearly 400,000 more households could be living in poverty by 2030.

Oxfam is calling on Theresa May to use her speech to Conservative Party Conference to set out how she will make good on her promise to close the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ by tackling bad behaviour by businesses and making the economy work for everyone.

Rachael Orr, Head of Oxfam’s UK Programme, said: “Inequality is a massive barrier to tackling poverty and has created an economy that clearly isn’t working for everyone. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, but it’s a nation divided into the ‘haves’ and have-nots’. Whilst executive pay soars, one in five people live below the poverty line and struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.”

The briefing says that the Brexit vote brought home just how polarised our country is, exposing strong and clear dividing lines, which have been driven by decades of persistently high levels of economic inequality. Many people believe they have little stake in society and feel completely shut out of politics and economic opportunity. The Prime Minister has called for more sharing of the proceeds of growth and the need to ensure we no longer leave people behind. She also criticised the irresponsible behaviour of some big businesses; one of the major driving factors of inequality in the UK.

Rachael Orr said “Oxfam welcomes the fact Theresa May is embracing this agenda. Addressing the practises of unscrupulous business needs to be a central part of the Government’s plans to even up the economy. That means closing wage gaps, incentivising investment in companies’ staff and making sure they pay their fair share of taxes.”

Oxfam said that companies have a major role to play in healing divided Britain. Too often today, a job is no guarantee of escaping poverty: in over half of the low income households in the UK at least one adult is working. Too many employees are trapped in low-paid jobs without a means of progression. Persistent low wages, increasingly insecure work and the rising cost of living, especially housing costs, mean work doesn’t provide the route out of poverty it should do. For those with caring responsibilities, predominantly women, this is harder still.

Rachael Orr said “Employers have a huge opportunity – they can play a key role in helping ensure work can be the viable route out of poverty it should be for millions of workers, by paying a living wage, honouring workers rights, and not using exploitative zero-hours contracts. At the same time the Government needs to hold their feet to the fire.”

Oxfam’s four point plan for the Government and businesses includes:

  • Delivering on Theresa May’s pledge to give a greater voice to employees, through greater representation on company boards
  • Incentivising employers to up-skill low skilled jobs and low skilled workers to ensure more people can access decent work
  • Addressing pay disparities through the adoption of pay ratios and curbing of excessive pay at the top and address pay levels at the bottom
  • Tackling corporate tax avoidance and putting an end to the era of tax havens

Research carried out for Oxfam by the London School of Economics, to be published later this year, will set out evidence that inequality is a major barrier to reducing poverty in the UK. It will show that poverty rates are generally higher when inequality is higher and increases in income inequality are associated with increases in income poverty rates.

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