Covid exploded inequality, boon for billionaires: Oxfam report

A new study by Oxfam International shows the rapidly increasing inequality among the rich and poor classes during the pandemic.

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Covid exploded inequality, boon for billionaires
A homeless man in metro looking work for food. Source: Pixabay.com

More than 16 crore humans were pushed into poverty and roughly 99 percent of people around the globe had diminished income during the pandemic. But it was a stark opposite scenario for the rich. The pandemic saw the 10 richest people of the world more than double their fortune to 1.5 trillion USD, at a rate of 1.3 billion USD per day according to a new study by Oxfam International, a British charitable organisation.

“COVID-19 has created an inequality explosion. It has been a boon for billionaires. Now, collectively, the 10 richest men have doubled their fortunes during the pandemic at a rate of 15,000 USD per second, which is the same as an annual minimum wage income,” said Abby Maxman, CEO and president of Oxfam America in an interview to NPR. 

The report titled Inequality Kills shows that inequality contributes to death of roughly 21000 people a day. The report says that estimated 5.6 million people die every year for lack of access to healthcare in poor countries. At a minimum, 67,000 women die each year due to female genital mutilation, or murder at the hands of a former or current partner. Hunger kills over 2.1 million people each year at a minimum. By 2030, the climate crisis could kill 231,000 people each year in poor countries.

“And inequality doesn’t create just unhealthier and unhappier societies; it’s violent, and it kills. And our new research shows how it is contributing to the death of one person every four seconds from preventable things like hunger,” added Maxman in the interview.

The Oxfam report also talks about extreme inequality being a form of economic violence where the policy and political choices are made in favour of the rich, harming a vast number of people. 

It states that 20 new billionaires were created by March 2021 owing to profits made by pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and services needed for the pandemic. The number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific increased to 1087 from 803 by November 2021 and their collective wealth increased by 74 percent, as per the report. The report also shows that the richest 1 percent own more wealth than the poorest 90 percent in Asia-pacific.

Mustafa Talpur, campaigns lead at Oxfam Asia told The Guardian, “It is outrageous and highly unacceptable that poor people in Asia [were left at] the mercy of the pandemic facing severe health risks, joblessness, hunger and pushed into poverty – erasing the gains made in decades in the fight against poverty.”

According to International Labour organisation, there were roughly 81 million jobs lost during the pandemic, which pushed around 25 million people into poverty. On the other hand, the billionaires saw their wealth increase by 1.46 trillion USD.  The report further says that if the world’s richest men were to lose 99.99 percent of their wealth, they still would be richer than 99 percent of the people on earth. The report states that billionaire’s wealth has increased more during the pandemic than last 14 years.

“They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.” Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said to The Hindu.

On the other side the pandemic has pushed gender parity back from 99 to 135 years. In 2020, women have lost 800 billion USD in earnings, with 1.3 crore fewer women working than in 2019. 252 males own more money than the aggregate wealth of one billion women and girls in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The report states that That at least 73 countries face the prospect of IMF-backed austerity risks worsening inequality between countries, and every type of inequality within countries. It states inequality to be the core of climate crisis. It shows that the richest emit 1 percent more than twice the CO2 emitted by bottom 50 percent of the world. 

Inequality Kills suggests the governments to tax the new wealth made since the dawn of the pandemic with permanent wealth and capital taxes.  It also urges the government to use the money raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming.

“There’s such an opportunity right now because billionaire wealth is not a sign of economic strength; it is a sign of an economic policy failure. And we’ve seen a pernicious shift of power towards the ultra-wealthy that can change” said Maxman to NPR.

Related: Developed Economy, a distant dream – Extreme Poverty, a proximate reality

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