Number of billionaires doubles since financial crisis as inequality spirals out of control

Published: 29th October 2014

In same period at least a million mothers died in childbirth due to lack of basic health services

Rising inequality could set the fight against poverty back by decades (1), Oxfam warned today as it published a new report showing that the number of billionaires worldwide has more than doubled since the financial crisis. (2)

The report, Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality, details how the richest people in the world have more money than they could ever spend while hundreds of millions live in abject poverty without essential health care or basic education. 

In countries around the world, prosperity is not trickling down to ordinary people, but up to those at the top, whose exceptional wealth is growing ever more rapidly. The richest 85 people – who Oxfam revealed in January as having the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population (3) – saw their collective wealth increase by $668 million per day between 2013 and 2014. That’s almost half a million dollars every minute. (4) 

Worldwide personalities talk about tackling extreme inequality

From the IMF to the Pope, from President Obama to the World Economic Forum, there is a growing consensus that inequality is a crucial challenge of our time and that failure to act is both economically and socially damaging.  Despite the warm words, little action has materialised. 

The Oxfam report, endorsed by Graça Machel, Kofi Annan and Joseph Stiglitz among others (5), is the opening salvo of a new Oxfam campaign, also called Even it Up, to push world leaders to turn rhetoric into reality and ensure the poorest people get a fairer deal. Action is needed to clamp down on tax dodging carried out by multinational corporations and the world’s richest individuals. Big global corporations and the wealthiest people must pay their fair share to governments’ coffers, so that countries can tackle inequality and build fairer societies.

A barrier to prosperity

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, said: “Far from being a driver of economic growth, extreme inequality is a barrier to prosperity for most people on the planet. Today wealth is trickling upwards, and will continue to do so until governments act. We should not allow narrow-minded economic doctrine and the self-interest of the rich and powerful blind us to these facts.

“Around the world millions of people are dying due to a lack of health care and millions of children are missing out on school, while a small elite have more money than they could spend in a lifetime. 

“Inequality hinders growth, corrupts politics, stifles opportunity and fuels instability while deepening discrimination, especially against women,” said Byanyima. 

Investing for the many

The potential benefit of redistributing the wealth of the very richest, by even a tiny amount, tells a compelling story. A levy of just 1.5 per cent on the wealth of the world's billionaires today could raise enough each year to get every child into school and deliver health care in the poorest countries.(6)

The effect of curbing inequality would be as dramatic as would be the failure to act. In India, for example, halting the recent increase in inequality could enable 90 million more people escape extreme poverty by 2019.(7) In Kenya, 3 million more people could be pushed below the poverty line by the same year if inequality there remains at current levels rather than declining slightly.(8) 

Byanyima added, “Tackling inequality is not about being envious of fast cars and super yachts – it’s about the fact that the richest literally live longer and healthier lives than the poorest. We live in a world where there is plenty enough for everyone to improve their lot. Extreme inequality causes instability, conflict and even mental health problems that affect us all. It is time to even it up before it gets worse.” 

Investment in free public services will be crucial to closing the gap between the richest and the rest. Every year, 100 million people are driven into poverty because they are forced to pay for health care. From 2009-2014, at least one million women died in childbirth due to a lack of basic health services.(9) Meanwhile, education fees still exclude far too many. In Ghana, for instance, the poorest families would have to pay 40% of their income to send just one child to a low-fee school, underlining the importance of free education for all. 

But for those at the top it’s a different tale as they have enough assets to last them well beyond their years. If the world's three richest people were to spend $1m every single day each, it would take each one of them around 200 years to exhaust all of their wealth.(10)  This is not a rich country story; today there are 16 billionaires in Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living there in extreme poverty, while in South Africa, inequality is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid.

Far from being a driver of economic growth, extreme inequality is a barrier to prosperity for most people on the planet.
Winnie Byanyima
Oxfam International Executive Director

Notes to editors

  1. If African countries continue on their current growth trajectory with no change in levels of income inequality, then the continent’s poverty rate won’t fall below three percent – the World Bank’s definition of ending poverty – until 2075. IMF (2014) ‘Fiscal Policy and Income Inequality’, IMF Policy Paper, Figure 8, Washington, D.C.: IMF,   The target set by the IMF and the World Bank for ending poverty is 2030
  2.  In March 2009, there were 793 billionaires, according to Forbes. In March 2014 there were 1645 billionaires, according to Forbes. 
  3. Oxfam research in early 2014 found that the 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. This figure was based on the wealth of the 85 billionaires at the time of the annual Forbes report in March 2013. Working for the Few report.
  4. In the period March 2013 to March 2014, Oxfam found that the wealth of the 85 richest individuals in the world, as identified in the Working for the Few paper detailed in Note 3, rose again by a further 14 per cent, or $244bn. This equates to a $668m increase a day; $463,888.89 every minute. Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality report, pg. 3.
  5. List of those who have endorsed the Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality report:
    Graça Machel, Founder of the Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique, UN independent expert on the impact of armed conflict on children, and founding member of The Elders;
    Kofi Annan, Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Laureate;
    Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University, winner of Nobel Prize for Economics;
    Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian writer and activist;
    Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England;
    Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University;
    Rosa Pavanelli, Secretary General, Public Services International;
    Ha-Joon Chang, Economist at the University of Cambridge;
    Jay Naidoo, Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Partnership Council, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition;
    Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, Co-authors of The Spirit Level;
    Michael J. Sandel, author of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets;
    Kevin Watkins, Executive Director, Overseas Development Institute;
    Mark Thomas, Partner and Head of Strategy, PA Consulting Services;
    JayatiGhosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru university;
    Amina J Mohammed Special, Advisor of the UN Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning.
  6. A 1.5 per cent tax on billionaires’ wealth over $1bn in 2014 would raise $74bn - calculated using wealth data according to Forbes as of 4 August 2014. The current annual funding gap for providing Universal Basic Education is $26bn a year according to UNESCO, and the annual gap for providing key health services (including specific interventions such as maternal health, immunisation, for major diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, and for significant health systems strengthening to see these and other interventions delivered) in 2015 is $37bn a year according to the WHO. See UNESCO (2014) op.cit., and WHO (2010), op. cit. Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality report, pg. 13
  7. In India, reducing inequality by 10 Gini coefficient points, the equivalent of a 36 per cent reduction, could almost eliminate extreme poverty altogether, by lifting 173 million people out of extreme poverty. 
  8. In Kenya, reducing inequality by 5 Gini coefficient points, the equivalent of a 12 percent reduction, could lift 3 million more Kenyans out of extreme poverty than if inequality remains at current levels.
  9. For the years 2009-2014 data on maternal death worldwide is only available for 2010 and 2013. In 2010, there were 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide,, pg. 1.In 2013, there were 289,000 maternal deaths worldwide, pg. 1. Using these figures, Oxfam calculated there were approximately 1.4 million maternal deaths due to a lack of basic health services from 2009-2013.
  10. Oxfam calculations for the time it would take the world’s three richest people to spend their wealth: Carlos Slim Helu and family’s wealth: $80bn. Years to spend all money, at $1m/day: 220 years. Earnings per day at ordinary rate of 1.95% interest: $4.3m. Earnings per day at average billionaire rate of return (5.3%): $11.6m. Bill Gates’ wealth: $79bn. Years to spend all money, at $1m/day: 218 years. Earnings per day at ordinary rate of 1.95% interest: $4.2m. Earnings per day at average billionaire rate of return (5.3%): $11.5m. Amancio Ortega’s wealth: $63bn. Years to spend all money, at $1m/day: 172 years. Earnings per day at ordinary rate of 1.95% interest: $3.3m. Earnings per day at average billionaire rate of return (5.3%): $9.1m. The average number of years for Carlos Slim Helu and family, Bill Gates and Amancio Ortega to spend their wealth is 203 years, based on the Oxfam calculations above. Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality report, pg. 27.


Global Release Press Conference

Date/Time: 30th October, 09:30 GMT
Location: COAM - Sala Rectangular - Tercera planta
Calle Hortaleza, 63 Madrid. Spain.
Who: Winnie Byanyima (Oxfam International Executive Director) and José María Vera (Oxfam Intermón -Oxfam in Spain- Executive Director).


Follow the Even it Up campaign launch event via @Oxfam

Contact information

Angela Corbalan, 0032 (0) 473 56 22 60 /

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