Growing inequality means just eight billionaires own the same wealth as half the world, campaigners have warned world leaders gathering for talks in Switzerland.

The eight people, all men, have riches equivalent to the wealth of the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to research by Oxfam.

It said the gap between rich and poor was far greater than had been feared and called for an overhaul of a “warped” economy that allowed a small group to have more wealth than they could ever spend while one in nine people went hungry.

 Bill Gates makes a speech during the Big IF London anti-hunger event in Hyde Park
Bill Gates makes a speech at an anti-hunger event in London (Geoff Caddick/PA)

There have been some strong opinions on social media with Bill Gates becoming a particular talking point as one of the eight men on the list, with many feeling the Microsoft founder does more than his fair share for charity.

The report itself seems to suggest that Gates would agree with Oxfam’s stance.

And others don’t see Gates as being personally attacked by the report, more that capitalism is to blame.

Gates, who tops the list, and Warren Buffett, the world’s third richest man, are known philanthropists who have pledged to give away most of their wealth.

Making up the rest of the list are Amancio Ortega, Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg.

Oxfam is calling on international leaders to improve international co-operation to stop tax dodging, action to encourage companies to act for the benefit of staff as well as shareholders, wealth taxes to fund healthcare, education and job creation, and improvements in opportunities for women.

It also urged business chiefs to commit to paying a living wage and their fair share of tax.

Oxfam has called for change
Oxfam has called for change (Nick Ansell/PA)

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “This year’s snapshot of inequality is clearer, more accurate and more shocking than ever before.

“It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity.

“While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it.”

Theresa May will attend the World Economic Forum of global political and business leaders in Davos this week (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Theresa May will attend the World Economic Forum of global political and business leaders in Davos this week (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Oxfam said out-of-control pay ratios meant the average pay of FTSE100 chief executives was 129 times that of the average employee and works out to the equivalent of 10,000 people working in Bangladeshi garment factories.

It said new and better data on the distribution of global wealth, particularly in India and China, showed the poorest had less wealth than previously thought.

The charity said if the information had been available when it carried out research last year, its report would have found that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet instead of 62.

The Adam Smith Institute free market think-tank accused Oxfam of putting out misleading information.

Head of research Ben Southwood said the welfare of the world’s poor was improving, with the proportion of the global population surviving on less than two dollars a day falling from 69% in 1981 to 43% in 2008.

“Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not,” he said.

“It is not the wealth of the world’s rich that matters, but the welfare of the world’s poor – and this is improving every year.

“The consumption of the world’s poor continues to rise, as does their education, healthcare, and height.”