“When the combined assets of the poorest 11 million Canadians the wealth of the two richest Canadian billionaires, it’s glaringly obvious income inequality is a problem in Canada” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (20 Jan., 2017) — An Oxfam report has revealed that the wealthiest 2 Canadians have almost as much wealth as the poorest 30 per cent of Canadians. Globally, the 8 richest men in the world own as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent.
“When the combined assets of the poorest 11 million Canadians equals the wealth of the 2 richest Canadian billionaires, it’s glaringly obvious income inequality is a problem in Canada”, said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees.
Oxfam, an international organization working to reduce poverty, released the report, An Economy for the 99%, which is an annual report on income inequality around the world.
Income inequality unjust and costly
The injustice of income inequality is obvious. But the gap between the super-rich and the rest of us also has serious consequences.
Research has shown that in countries with high levels of inequality life expectancy is lower, the economy is less stable, crime is higher, and scores for math, reading and science are lower. And it’s not just people who are poor who are affected by inequality. The sense of insecurity created by inequality affects all but the very rich.
Inequality growing because super-rich taking from the rest of us
These days the super-rich aren’t getting richer by creating new wealth. They’re taking it away from the rest of us.
One way is avoiding taxes — legally or otherwise. But when the wealthy avoid taxes, it means people with lower incomes either pay more in taxes or do without public services they have relied on.
There has also been a push for a bigger share of corporate profits to go to wealthy shareholders. Oxfam reported that in Britain the percentage of profits used for dividend payments has risen from 10 per cent in the 1970s to 70 per cent today. A similar change has occured in Canada.
That hurts workers in 2 ways. Money is no longer available for the investment that is needed for the company to be viable in the long-term. There is also pressure to reduce wages and benefits so even higher dividends can be paid to wealthy shareholders.
We have the power to reduce income inequality – but only if we act
"We know what needs to be done to reduce income inequality and we know our planet will be a safer place if inequality is reduced. The challenge is getting governments to act," said Brown.
"But because of our work, we are seeing progress. Governments are increasingly acknowledging that the causes of inequality, such as tax avoidance by the wealthy, are problems," Brown continued. "But wealthy individuals and corporations remain a powerful lobby group. As we fight for measures to reduce income inequality, they will be fighting to water them down."
One area where the federal governments actions haven't matched its rhetoric is the use of tax havens by wealthy individuals and corporations trying to avoid paying their share. Successive federal governments have talked about the need to crack down, but key measures have yet to be implemented.
“In addition to increasing awareness of income inequality, we also need to be prepared to show people how to spot the difference between real solutions and smokescreens that hide the problem,” said Brown.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE