Hope In The Shadows: A Call For Transformation

Aleema Shivji Economics, Inequality, Tax

Extreme levels of inequality cast shadows over the lives of billions of the world’s poorest people. We must see the faces behind the statistics, says Oxfam GB’s Chief Impact Officer Aleema Shivji, and sound the alarm for change: to empower workers, break up monopolies and tax the ultra-rich. These are not mere “policy recommendations” – they are pathways to change for the lives of countless individuals.

Sone was a former middle person buying fish from fisher people in her village and selling to external buyers. Since the dam construction, she has turned to duck raising with the help of Oxfam local partner, CLICK. Image credit: Patrick Moran/Oxfam

In the intricate tapestry of our world, where lives and experiences intertwine, the annual Oxfam Inequality Report – “Inequality Inc” – unveils narratives of triumph and struggle. Released in late January 2024, this report is beyond just statistics; it signals a grave concern that a new economic aristocracy is rising while billions of people are shouldering the shockwaves of poverty, hunger, and war. At its heart, it narrates stories of real people, their dreams, and the formidable challenges they face. As we delve into the heart of these stories, let us focus on the key messages that call on us to make our world more compassionate and connected.

The Human Faces Behind The Numbers

Picture a world where the dreams of five individuals materialise into immense wealth, doubling since 2020. Now, juxtapose this with the stories of five billion people, constituting the poorest 60%, who have seen their collective wealth fall. In the poorest countries, poverty rates have risen, and undernutrition is on the rise. Inequality is crushing the goal we all had – the dream of ending poverty and hunger.

Graphic from the 2024 Inequality Inc. report

As we embark on a decade where we may see the world’s first trillionaire, the faces behind these numbers beckon us to see beyond the headlines and into the lives of those grappling with the harsh realities of our times. Faces like Susi, who wasn’t allowed to stop to drink when working in a shrimp factory that supplied supermarkets such as (Amazon-owned) Whole Foods, while Jeff Bezos flew to space and thanked Amazon workers for making his trip possible.

A Symphony of Struggles: Monopoly Power and Billionaire Influence

In the world’s economy, powerful corporations and billionaires hold sway, creating a symphony of struggles for ordinary people. Seven out of ten of the world’s biggest corporations now have a billionaire at the helm, amplifying the influence of the few over the many. The melody of monopoly power crescendos in sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals and technology to food, where a mere two corporations control 40% of the global seed market.

Graphic from the 2024 Inequality Inc. report

Visualise the farmer, tilling the soil with hands weathered from decades of work, finding the market increasingly dominated by a duo dictating the terms of business. Envision the scientist, working towards breakthroughs in healthcare, caught in the undertow of a pharmaceutical industry shaped by mergers that blur the lines between progress and profit. These are the faces of individuals navigating a world where power is concentrated – a world where markets are moulded by the few, for the few.

Hope in the Shadows: A Call for Transformation

Amidst the long shadows cast by ever-greater levels of inequality, Inequality Inc. sounds a clarion call for transformation. It’s not just a call for policy change; it’s a call to see the faces of those affected. Governments are urged to wield their influence and shape markets that are fairer and free from billionaire control. Break up monopolies, empower workers, tax the ultra-rich – these are not just recommendations; they are pathways to change the stories of countless individuals.

Imagine the single parent struggling to make ends meet, benefiting from a government that chooses to invest in public services. Imagine the worker, whose labour fuels the engines of progress, standing tall in a world where corporations prioritise equitable practices. These are the faces of hope, emerging from the shadows when transformative actions are taken.

A Global Symphony: The Role of the UK in Tackling Inequality

Inequality affects all of us – our communities, our health, and our collective well-being – no matter where in the world we happen to be. As the UK steps into an election year, the report implores us to ponder our role in the global symphony against inequality and to heed the call for action closer to home, with 14.4 million people living in relative poverty in this country.

The stories of those living in the margins should echo in the corridors of power. A fairer private sector, taxation on wealth, collaboration on a global scale – these are not just policy points, they are choices we must grapple with. A UK wealth tax of 1-2% on those with net wealth of £10 million (or more) could raise up to £22 billion per year, which could in turn be invested in public services and supporting the most vulnerable in society.

Crafting a Tapestry of Equality

In conclusion, Inequality Inc. invites us to humanise the numbers, to listen to the stories and above all to craft a tapestry of equality. It’s a call to recognise the faces behind the statistics and the lives behind the headlines. As we navigate the complexities of our world, let us remember that each decision, each action, shapes the stories of those who have long lived in the shadows of louder voices. Let us embark on a journey to bridge divides, to create a world where every face, every story, is woven into the fabric of a more compassionate, connected, and equal society. A journey where there is no singular story that feels more important but where all of our stories can be heard. Mine, yours, theirs. Ours.

This blog was originally posted on the LSE Inequalities blog

Read the full report, Inequality Inc.: How Corporate Power Divides Our World and the Need for a New Era of Public Action, and catch up on all our 2024 Davos blogs here.

About the Author

Aleema Shivji

Aleema Shivji is the Chief Impact Officer at Oxfam GB