Inequality is not a new injustice. It is a painful, daily reality for so many people across the globe in all its forms. For generations the powerful few have rigged political and economic systems to seize yet more power, whilst actively oppressing and dis-empowering the many. And this generation is no different.
Over the last 30 years rich elites and corporations have corrupted democracy in countries across the world, and pushed a faith in markets so far that they have caused an inequality explosion. They have pedaled the lie that the wealth will trickle down, but in fact the evidence shows that more and more is trickling upwards, lining the burgeoning pockets of the ultra-wealthy and leaving the poor and marginalized far behind and the planet in a mess. They have justified skyrocketing CEO pay alongside poverty wages, and tax breaks for the wealthy. As documented by ActionAid in their recent report, The Price of Privilege, there are a number of lies that have been perpetuated to try and paint this outrageous situation as natural or necessary, like inequality being necessary to generate economic growth, and climate change having nothing to do with economics.
But we have reached a tipping point. Last year the richest 1% had more wealth than the rest of the world. And the publication of today's World Wealth Report has again underlined that business is booming for rich elites, with the number of millionaires and ultra millionaires rocketing up since 2009, in a world where more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty.
The story is the same in Africa, home to seven of the most unequal countries in the world. Since 2010 the number of African billionaires has doubled, and the ten richest have a combined wealth that matches the GDP of Kenya. Yet on the same continent, millions of people have been pushed into extreme poverty in the last decades, forcing them to live without dignity or opportunity, and robbing them of their human rights.
Today, the wealthiest can not only buy access to politicians, and influence that allows them to rig the economic rules in their favor, they can also literally buy longer lives and a better future for their children. The poorest children are four times more likely to miss out on school than the richest, and too many of those being left out of the classroom are girls, who are hit by a double inequality. And the assault on fairness and equality is far from winding down.
Rich elites continue to enforce an ideological regime of budget cuts, privatization, tax breaks, and veils of tax secrecy for the richest. They are decimating the State's ability to meet everyone's rights, and squandering the opportunity and the potential of the next generation. Yet there can be no doubt that this ideological agenda is one which fails the vast majority of people. In Latin America, Asia, Africa and the former Soviet bloc these same market fundamentalist policies were imposed by creditors after the debt crises of the 80s and 90s, causing inequality and poverty to soar across the board.
But history has also taught us that oppression and injustice will not ride roughshod over people's rights unchallenged forever. The fight back will be equally strong, and it has started. Around the world, movements and citizens are demanding a fairer deal that puts people and planet before profit, and rights before riches. Political parties and candidates have won public support for platforms challenging economic inequality in Spain, Portugal and the USA. People have taken to the streets in protest at broken and bent economic rules from Brazil to Iceland, from Chile to South Africa. The Fight Inequality Alliance who reacted to today's World Wealth Report, is a growing group of campaigners, unions, peoples movements and charities that has come together to fight extreme inequality. They have signaled that the gap in power and wealth between the richest and the rest has gone too far, and the systemic transformation we need must be built from the grassroots up.
There is an unprecedented movement building that will stand up to vested interests, and accept nothing short of a fairer world. The Africa Civil Society Initiative which we have started with networks, organisations and movements across the continent has identified inequality as one of the big challenges we need to overcome together. We have done it before, and we will do it again. I have every faith that people power will triumph over today's economic apartheid. But it is up to us to build the struggle that will succeed.