Wealth equality - it’s coming yet

Ofxam building blocks cropped

​Oxfam's Jamie Livingstone urges politicians to do more to to close the wealth gap.

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26th January 2016 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

Back in the 18th Century, Robert Burns challenged inequality through his words.

More than 200 years after he penned A Man's A Man For A' That, it still resonates deeply.

And it needs to because globally we face an extreme and growing inequality crisis.

Just 62 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population put together – some 3.6 billion people. Five years ago the equivalent figure was 388.

If this astonishing trend continues, then how concentrated will wealth be next year, or the year after that?

Oxfam cares about runaway inequality because it is a barrier to reducing poverty.

Jamie Livingstone

Jamie Livingstone

Not only could hundreds of millions more people have been lifted out of poverty had inequality been lower, but we risk undermining the huge progress we have made in lifting people out of the most extreme poverty. 

It can be comforting to see inequality as only a global problem and one that’s somehow distant to Scotland.  

Yet the distribution of wealth here is also highly unequal.  

Latest official figures show the richest 20% have around two-thirds of all household wealth while the poorest 20% have less than 1%. At the same time, nearly one in five people still live in poverty.

In his song, Burns was optimistic – the greater equality he wrote about was “coming yet for a' that”.

Today we remain hopeful for two key reasons: not only do we know that extreme economic inequality is far from inevitable, but there’s also strong public support in Scotland for a fairer society.

Our new polling, carried out by YouGov and reaching 1,129 adults in Scotland, shows nearly 80% of people favour wealth being distributed more equally.

Even more encouragingly, 63% said politicians in Scotland should do more to tackle economic inequality.

We know the Scottish Parliament can’t tackle extreme inequality on its own – but it can do more.

Last October we highlighted nine areas we think Holyrood can make a bigger contribution – including, for example, helping to enhance the quality of work so it provides a reliable route out of poverty.

It can also restore and protect the International Development Fund after a six year cash freeze which has reduced the difference it makes to the world’s poorest people.

Seventeen years after folk singer Sheena Wellington’s iconic performance of A Man’s A Man for A’ That at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, we’ve featured it again in our new campaign film.

In doing so, we hope it can inspire us towards a fairer Scotland, in a fairer world. 

Jamie Livingstone is head of Oxfam Scotland.


26th January 2016 by Rose Burn

Some of this analysis is very poor. Of course the richest 20% own most of the household wealth, as they are older people who own their house, as opposed to the poorest part of the population who obviously rent their homes! Housing is the largest part of household wealth by far.