The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from 700 billion dollars to 1.5 trillion dollars (at a rate of 15,000 dollars per second or 1.3 billion dollars a day) during the first two years of COVID 19 when the income of 99 percent of all people fell and over 160 million more were forced into poverty.
In a briefing Inequality Kills, Oxfam pointed out that inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or comes to one person every four seconds,
Moreover, Oxfam said that COVID 19 has brought health systems and economies around the world to breaking point, taking the lives and loved ones of rich and poor people alike. However, the richest and dominant groups were better able to protect their health and wealth, while poor and marginalized families faced a disproportionate risk of illness, death and destitution.
Head of Oxfam’s EU Office Evelien van Roemburg said “extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of a privileged few results in direct harm to the vast majority of people across the world and the planet itself.”
Billionaires’ wealth rose more since COVID-19 began, than it has in the last 14 years. At five trillion dollars, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began, the briefing said. In the EU and the UK, the wealth of the billionaires increased by 642 billion euros since March 2020. This represents an increase of 46%, while the bottom 90% saw their share of wealth drop in 2021. Currently the 107 richest people in EU and UK own more wealth (€1377 billion) than the bottom 179 million citizens (€1374 bn). In the brief, Oxfam said that rich governments failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest and continued to privatize public goods such as vaccine science. They encouraged corporate monopolies to such a degree that in the pandemic period alone, the increase in market concentration threatens to be more in one year than in the past 15 years from 2000 to 2015,
“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.” said Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher.
GULF BETWEEN HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
Oxfam noted that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widened. The governments pursued deregulation, liberalization of financial and labour markets, privatization rapid reductions in public spending and default generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. These measures reduced the role of the state and put the interests of the few above the needs of the many, driving up inequality in regions across the world. The Oxfam noted that even the IMF, a strong proponent of neoliberal policies, has critiqued their damaging effect on equality and sustainable growth. The Oxfam also mentioned that policy making benefitted the rich and powerful the most. Their wealth and influence allowed them to skew decisions to their advantage, undermining democratic governance. Moreover, women and marginalized groups got exploited.
The World Bank, the IMF, OECD and World Economic Forum projected that the pandemic will trigg a significant spike in inequality in countries around the world. When it only took just nine months for the wealth of the top 1,000 billionaires to recover to pre-pandemic levels, it is likely to take more than a decade for the income of the world’s poorest people to recover. In March 2020, the pandemic caused the biggest stock market crash in a century, but within four to five months billionaires in the Middle East and North Africa had increased their wealth by 20% and their counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean by 17%. Between 18 March and 31 December 2020 the world’s billionaires saw their wealth grow by $3.9tn.
Only around half of the world’s population are online, and coverage rates in poorer countries are low. An estimated 87% of people in developed countries use the internet, compared with just 19% in the least developed countries (LDCs). Urban households are twice as likely to be online as those in rural areas, and there is also a significant gender gap in internet use, which is highest, at 43 percentage points, in LDCs.
WIDENING HEALTH INEQUALITIES
Covid 19 pandemic has put public health systems under extreme pressure, and in many countries high out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditure makes it even harder for the poorest people to access the health services they need, especially as the pandemic squeezes low incomes further. While COVID-19 vaccines have brought hope to the world, extreme inequality and pharmaceutical corporation monopolies mean that poor countries and poor people are being locked out of vaccine supply.
The concentration of great wealth and power in the hands of a few wealthy individuals and corporations gives them undue influence over policy making, and undermines democracy. Money buys political clout, which the richest and mos powerful use to further entrench their influence and advantages. Today, 87% of people live in countries where civic space is obstructed, repressed or closed, and the situation has worsened since the start of the crisis. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of countries impeding the registration of unions also increased from 89 to 109, and rights to strike and to collectively bargain were violated in 87% and 79% of countries respectively in 2021.
Oxfam recommends that all governments urgently:
- Claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes.
- Invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming.
- Tackle sexist and racist laws that discriminate against women and racialized people and create new genderequal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialized and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.
- End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.
- Rich governments must immediately waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to usher in the end of the pandemic.