Pope Francis has declared his hope that poverty can be ended through higher taxes on the wealthy at a Vatican meeting attended by the president of World Bank, the managing director of the IMF, and other senior figures from the world of banking and politics.

“Every year hundreds of billions of dollars, which should be paid in taxes to fund health care and education, accumulate in tax haven accounts thus impeding the possibility of the dignified and sustained development of all social agents,” the pontiff told participants in yesterday’s Vatican seminar.

Calling for radical change and “a new ethic”, the pope said five million children “will die this year due to poverty”, and that “a rich world and a vibrant economy can and must put an end to poverty.”

The Argentine told the high-level meeting that the 50 richest people in the world could “save millions of lives each year” by providing an education and health care for every poor child in the world.

Warning that the economy and finance should not “become an end in themselves”, he said Catholic social teaching maintains government and banks only fulfill their full purpose when they serve the “common good, social justice, peace, and the integral development of each person.”

“Today’s structures of sin include repeated tax cuts for the richest people, often justified in the name of investment and development,” the pope told the meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.

Francis also claimed that corruption by some of the world’s biggest corporations is often facilitated by governments that allow tax evasion and tax havens to be used for private and corporate gain, to the detriment of the poor.

Whilst the pope’s claims that extreme poverty is increasing may have raised eyebrows among attendees, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva responded to the pope’s speech by telling the meeting that “the first task is to put the economy at the service of the people” and that “inequality of opportunity” must be addressed.