Many countries in the world face a huge problem with the gap widening between the richest and the poorest.
Most of the countries near the top of the 2020 CRI (Commitment to Reducing Inequality) Index are more developed countries. With higher gross domestic products, they have much more scope to raise progressive tax revenues; likewise, they have greater scope to spend those revenues on public services and social protection.
Norway tops the index, notably scoring top on labour rights. It has the sixth lowest income inequality in the world but since 2000, has cut its top personal income tax and corporate tax rates sharply, so that taxes now play a lower role in reducing inequality. The country ranks as the 9th biggest corporate tax cutter in the world. Overall inequality and poverty have risen during the last decade, and 15 OECD countries perform better than Norway on wealth inequality.
For the past two decades, successive governments in Denmark have promoted taxation policies that have increased inequality, challenging the historically low levels of inequality within the population. Since 2010, income growth has stagnated for the 40% with the lowest incomes, while the richest 10% now own nearly half of the country’s total wealth. Furthermore, the decrease in spending on education as a redistributive measure to address widening inequality is alarming. The new Danish government elected in 2019 is, however, expected to reverse some of these negative trends.
Some countries may not score as highly on the overall index but are clearly taking steps to reduce inequality, despite their relatively low incomes.
Sierra Leone has built on its commitment to make secondary education free by increasing education spending this year. The government has clamped down on tax evasion by mining companies and has introduced a property tax in the capital, Freetown. It has also increased its minimum wage, although this applies only to the small proportion of workers who are formally employed.
Since the 2018 CRI Index, Vietnam has increased its health spending, although it must do even more to reduce health inequalities and the significant amount ordinary people need to pay for the cost of healthcare. Vietnam’s tax collection is strong, especially compared with other countries in the region, but it could still do more to eliminate tax incentives for corporations. Its score on labor rights remains low, but if it implements the recent welcome agreement to allow workers to form their own independent labor unions, this score will improve.
The smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has a population of 6.4 million and is one of the most densely populated countries, ranking in the 83rd percentile worldwide in terms of population density. Over 25 percent of children below the age of 5 experience extreme poverty in El Salvador and 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. 90 percent of the population has access to safe water and 96 percent of children are enrolled in school, though this education may not be effective in preparing children for their future. El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under 19.
Task: Read the article about how the rich poor divide continues to grow in Latin America.
Task: What is causing the high levels of poverty in El Salvador or other Latin American countries?
Task: What are the potential solutions for poverty in Latin America?
Liberation theology: a theology which considers that the heart of the Christian message is to bring spiritual and material justice and freedom to those who are oppressed.
LT grew out of the situation in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s. The poor often lived in favelas without proper sewage. These favelas were often overlooked by luxury houses. Children joined gangs and there was a high infant mortality rate. El Salvador, where LT began to grow rapidly, is still one of the most violent countries in the world.
Task: Watch the video.
Task: Create a short timeline of Oscar Romero’s life and death. Use the information here.
Contextual theology: a type of theology which reflects on a specific situation in light of Christian tradition. LT responds to the poor in Latin America as a first step response. It puts the needs of the poor and oppressed above the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, meaning that it has been labelled as radical and dangerous.
LT believes that the Church should be involved with the conditions of society and not privatised. God created the material world and therefore religion should not be separated from it. LT believes that the material conditions of the poor should be tackled first, with the Church teachings coming second.
Karl Marx was also interested in the same issues, that the poor and oppressed are treated inhumanely and that is unacceptable.
Task: Who was Karl Marx? Watch the video.