World's 85 richest own as much as poorest 50%

January 21, 2014: 3:23 PM ET
poor wealthy gap
Anti-poverty charity Oxfam has urged world leaders to do more to tackle growing wealth gap
DAVOS (CNNMoney)

The richest 85 people in the world own as much wealth as the bottom half of the population, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said in a new report.

Oxfam's analysis -- published on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos -- drew heavily on the Forbes list of the super rich and a report by Credit Suisse, which found that total wealth increased by about 5% to $241 trillion last year.

Almost half that figure, or $110 trillion, is in the hands of the richest 1%.

The charity said the massive concentration of wealth presented a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems and could lead to rising social tension.

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"It is not only dangerous because of income inequality per se," said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam's executive director. "We also find that the very wealthy people capture power," she told CNN.

"If we don't break out of this, power and wealth, privilege and opportunity are going to keep passing on from one generation to another, to a few people."

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In a report prepared for this week's meeting, the World Economic Forum found growing inequality posed the biggest single risk to the world economy. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where inequality has increased over the past 30 years, according to Oxfam.

Byanyima said she wants Davos attendees to commit to progressive taxation, end tax dodging, and invest the proceeds in providing better healthcare and education

"This kind of inequality does not encourage growth -- it stalls growth, it causes insecurity, it causes social instability and all this undermines the profit seekers' motive."

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