Covid-19 crisis is worsening economic inequality at unprecedented rate, Oxfam says

Daniel Fowler
January 26, 2021

"We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began", said Diana Sarosi, director of policy and campaigns for Oxfam Canada. Considering that only 3 per cent of India's poorest 20 per cent households had access to a computer, and 9 per cent had access to the internet, the difficulties faced by the poor and the historically deprivileged in accessing education have worsened.

Since the start of the pandemic and in Canada alone, 44 billionaires have increased their wealth by nearly $63.5 billion since the pandemic began, says the report.

According to the report, the increase in the wealth - just since the crisis began - of the world's 10 richest billionaires is "more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone".

The report suggests some time-bound targeted steps which governments can take to reduce inequality and avoid a return to pre-crisis levels of poverty.

A chart showing the increase in the wealth of top 11 billionaires.

"It is morally repugnant to allow the poorest people to continue to pay the price for the crisis, when it is clear that a fair tax on the richest could make such a difference", Rebecca Gowland, Oxfam's head of inequality, said last month, the BBC reported.

The Oxfam report set the scene by pointing to the extreme inequalities that exist in our world.

Unprecedented support from governments for their economies saw the stock market boom, driving up billionaire wealth while the real economy faces the deepest recession in a century, it says.

Putting the wealth increase into perspective, the report states that one tenth of the money earned by these nine high-net-worth individuals (€300 million) would cover the cost of a vaccine for every person within the Republic of Ireland.

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Economists in 79 countries who were surveyed by Oxfam said they projected their countries would experience an "increase" to a "major increase" in income inequality due to the pandemic.

The world's 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen an increase in their wealth by $540 billion (Rs 39 lakh crore) from March to December 2020.

"It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what the Chairman of Reliance Industries Limited Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what he made in a second", the report explained.

According to the report, women as well as marginalized racial and ethnic groups have been the hardest hit during the pandemic and are more likely to suffer from hunger and exclusion from healthcare.

"COVID-19 has been likened to an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built", UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is quoted as saying in Oxfam's new report.

The report estimates that 17 million women lost their jobs in April 2020 as the sectors hardest-hit by the pandemic had over-representation of women.

"Let's remember that 70% of care work, essential work and low paid work in the Irish economy, and similarly across the world, is carried out by women who are in more precarious work, and who don't have the benefits that one would expect from higher paid jobs".

Oxfam, a confederation of 20 non-profit groups that focuses on the alleviation of global poverty, was founded in 1942. A temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that have gained the most during the pandemic could have raised $104 billion in 2020. Only half the country's population has access to even the most basic healthcare services, the unequal reality that was aggravated during the health crisis triggered by the pandemic.

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