Ian Swanson: While the haves gather the have-nots grow in number

The conference centre in Davos where the World Economic Forum is being held. Picture: AP
The conference centre in Davos where the World Economic Forum is being held. Picture: AP
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EXTREME wealth will be in the public eye this week as bankers and business tycoons join politicians and world leaders for their annual get-together in the Swiss Alps.

The World Economic Forum, which takes place at Davos every year, is known as the richest and world’s most powerful global network of business, governments, economists and lobbyists.

Theresa May, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are among those attending.

And this year’s theme is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” – but no-one is expecting anything too revolutionary to emerge.

One commentator has said: “Davos is like a giant gated community where the one per cent can mingle with each other and pretend that they care about the other 99 per cent.”

But to coincide with the elite gathering Oxfam has published a new report on inequality – not just in global terms, but also within Scotland.

And it shows the gap between the haves and not-haves here is growing. The richest one per cent of Scots now have more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent put together.

READ MORE: Just 42 people have as much wealth as half of the world, says Oxfam

Oxfam senior researcher Dr Katherine Trebeck said: “It’s grimly apparent that the inequality crisis is out of control.

“The economic system is set up in a way that enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast wealth at the expense of hundreds of millions of people who are scraping a living on poverty pay.

“This isn’t a faraway crisis. We know that in Scotland, having a job doesn’t always mean escaping poverty – the vast majority of working age people living in poverty here live in a home where someone’s got a job.”

The ten richest families or individuals in Scotland were last year estimated to have a combined wealth of £14.7 billion. At the same time, around 430,000 Scots were paid less than the living wage of £8.45 per hour.

Here in Edinburgh, the growing problem of homelessness also highlights the huge inequalities in society. Campaigners demonstrated last week outside a B&B used by the council to house individuals and families in need of temporary accommodation, many of them evicted because they can no longer afford the rent thanks to the benefit cap.

READ MORE: Homeless Edinburgh soldier of Waverley Steps dies aged 47

B&B accommodation in general is accepted as unsuitable for families but, as photographs showed, conditions in this one were particularly appalling – filthy sheets and mattresses and a shared toilet without a lock on the door.

However serious the Capital’s housing shortage and however strapped the council is for cash, such standards should not be tolerated in a society that calls itself civilised.

The Scottish Government says tackling inequalities and making Scotland a fairer, more equal country is central to its purpose.

And its approach to the new social security service Scotland will soon have is encouraging, promising to make dignity and respect its hallmark.

But, of course, more needs to be done – not least bolder tax changes perhaps.

Many things which people used to put up with or not give a thought to are now rightly seen as unacceptable – from drink driving to sexual harrassment to plastic pollution.

It’s about time poverty, gross inequality and bad housing were viewed in the same light.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com