As the G7 Summit opens in French seaside town of Biarritz this week, ‘fighting inequality’ is supposed to be top of their official agenda. There will be the usual talk - as well as awkward handshakes and close examination of body language - with multilateralism under huge strain in a summit taking in Brexit, trade wars and popular protest alongside the formal talks. But now more than ever, political leaders actually need to listen. They will find that the solutions to inequality are not coming from politicians, but are already being moved forward by people on the frontlines of the problem globally.
This is not the first time that the G7 club of rich countries has attempted to ‘fight inequality.’ In 2017, under the Italian presidency, the G7 adopted the Bari Policy Agenda on Growth and Inequalities as a framework to facilitate ‘inclusive growth.’ But two years on, the world still has catastrophic levels of inequality, with the wealth and influence of the super rich growing ever sharper. We are truly living in the age of greed. And there is the stark hypocrisy of the G7 purporting to fight inequality whilst actually fuelling it through their policies and actions at home and around the world. Today, the G7, under the French presidency, is still talking about solving it but failing to do anything meaningful. Today, as this talking continues, the richest 1% of humanity owns as much wealth as the rest of us combined. Both the statistics and the realities in people’s lives are sobering.
More than half of total global wealth is owned by people living in G7 countries, and there are great inequalities within these countries as well. The richest 10% of the population in all seven countries owns approximately half or more of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% owns 10% or less. In the UK, 14 million people (or one in four) are living in poverty, while the average FTSE 100 CEO takes home 133 times the salary of the average worker.
Other forms of inequality, like rampant misogyny and racism, dominate the headlines on an almost daily basis. G7 countries have also failed to act with haste or substance to the climate crisis. In a study from the Climate Action Tracker, none of the G7 countries has done enough so far to contribute their fair share to the achievement of Paris Agreement’s 1.5 C temperature goal. Rich countries and giant corporations, as well as the global historical responsibilities that they deny, are the main cause of why our planet is burning at a sickening rate.
When even some of the super rich are expressing concern over the inequality crisis, it only illustrates how deep the mess is. The G7 is presiding over a broken economic system that is only working for the super rich and large corporations, and in fact, continues to hurt and exploit the rest of the population. The G7 need to listen closely to the people who are hit by inequality on a daily basis.
But as with all disruptive change that has happened throughout history, the fight against inequality will not be led by the G7. Ordinary people are leading the way. Discussing inequality does not equate to acting on it, and to remain relevant, the G7 must steer their conversation towards something meaningful and tangible, for the benefit of people and the planet.
Inequality is intersectional, and all forms of inequality reinforce each other. That’s why organizations across the world, ranging from human rights, trade unions, environment, women’s rights and community movements, are now working together to truly fight inequality. We have signed an open letter, addressed to G7 and other world leaders, to stop fuelling inequality.
The solutions we are putting forward include taxing the rich, creation of jobs, minimum living wages, decent public services, an end to fossil fuels and over-consumption, protection of democratic rights and civil society spaces, and ending brutal austerity measures that punish the poor for the crimes of the rich.
People all over the world have been working for solutions that governments and institutions should implement to save us from an impending catastrophe. We cannot let the status quo continue. Radical, systemic change must be on the menu. Women, young people and social movements are leading. A future must be created where a decent and dignified life will not be the privilege of a few. It’s time for us to work towards a just and equal world where everybody’s needs can be met and their rights respected.
The G7 will dominate the media in the next few days, but in order for it to be truly relevant, they must lift their gaze from the yachts in the Biarritz harbour and listen to the people who are actually fighting inequality in their daily lives. At this point in history, the time for talkshops is over. Now is the time to act.
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