Despite the recent growth which has catapulted Brazil into the world’s top 10 economies, it remains among the most unequal countries on the planet. While the mega-rich thrive, the desperately poor struggle to survive.
Some 16 million people live in abject poverty in Brazil – more than the entire population of the Netherlands. Just as in the wider world, economic progress alone isn’t enough to lift the poorest out of poverty.
Now that 75% of the world’s poor live in middle income countries, we believe we must tackle inequality within countries, not only by increasing income, but by addressing the structural causes of poverty – such as taxation systems, land distribution, and systematic discrimination.
Christian Aid’s 2012 report, The Real Brazil: The Inequality behind the Statistics (PDF, 6mb), demonstrates that ‘entrenched fundamental differences in the power that individuals and groups are able to exercise over their own lives and prospects have far-reaching implications for life expectancy, the chances of receiving a decent education, and access to secure employment and the benefits that brings’.
Some groups have been particularly excluded, such as women, Brazilians of African descent, indigenous people, and quilombolas (descendants of escaped slaves who fled to many different parts of Brazil).
In Brazil, the poorest households are taxed almost half of their income, while the richest households pay barely a quarter of theirs. Tax dodging accounts for 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) leaving the country illegally, where it cannot be used to fund health, education or other public policies.
Globally, Brazil has one of the most unequal patterns of land distribution. Just 3% of the population own more than two thirds of all arable land. This has trapped many rural labourers in poverty and has increased unplanned urbanisation.
Land rights are also an issue in the vast swathes of Brazil covered by the Amazon rainforest. Studies have shown that where forest land titles are held collectively by indigenous or quilombola communities, deforestation stands at about 1%, as opposed to 20% in the rest of the Amazon. Yet the majority of communities do not hold these titles, and where they do, poverty and infrastructure projects to support big business continue to threaten forest-living people and their ability to protect their environment.