01/20/2014 12:50 EST | Updated 03/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Oxfam warns of dangers of growing inequality

The richest 85 individuals in the world hold wealth equal to that owned by the poorest half of the planet's population, according an Oxfam report.

Oxfam’s report, titledWorking for the Few, was published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and urges the group to take measures to reduce growing inequality.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director, said in a press release.

Oxfam claims that since the late '70s tax rates for the world’s richest people have fallen in 29 or 30 countries for which details are available.

In addition, the wealthy hide about $21 trillion US in unrecorded and offshore accounts out of reach of governments, the report claimed.

"Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world's population," Oxfam claimed.

It estimates that half the world’s wealth, $110 trillion US is held by just one per cent of the population, while the 85 richest control $1.7 trillion.

Among them are Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecommunications mogul, whose family’s net wealth is estimated by Forbes business magazine at $73 billion; Microsoft founder Bill Gates with $67 billion and Warren Buffett with $53.5 billion.

The concentration of wealth is leading to increased inequality and pressure on the poor and middle classes that could lead to social unrest, Oxfam said.

Inequality seen as a threat

“This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems,” the charity said. “People are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.”

It points to inequality in India, where the number of billionaires increased tenfold in the past decade because of a regressive tax structure, and Africa, where global corporations are exploiting natural resources, while local populations are left poorer.

The World Economic Forum, which begins Wednesday, pulls together influential figures in international trade, business, finance and politics has already expressed alarm about growing inequality.

Oxfam is calling on the group to support progressive taxation, and to challenge their governments to use tax revenue to provide universal health care, education and social protection for citizens.