Anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam warned Monday that the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic will lead to the biggest increase in global inequality on record unless governments radically rejig their economies.
In a report geared to inform discussions at the World Economic Forum’s online panels of political and business leaders this week, Oxfam said the richest 1,000 people have already managed to recoup the losses they recorded in the early days of the pandemic because of the bounce back in stock markets. By contrast, Oxfam said it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover their losses.
“Rigged economies are funneling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic — shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table," said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.
Using figures from Forbes' 2020 Billionaire List, Oxfam said the world's 10 richest people, including the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett, saw their fortunes increase by half a trillion dollars, or $540 billion, since the crisis began even though the global economy remains smaller than when the pandemic started a year ago.
Those profits, according to "The Inequality Virus" report, are more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for all and "to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic." Oxfam estimates the cost to inoculate everyone in the world is $141.2 billion.
Billionaires globally saw their wealth increase by a staggering $3.9 trillion between March 18, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020, the report said. Their combined total wealth now stands at $11.95 trillion, which is equivalent to the amount governments in the largest 20 developed and developing nations, or G20, have spent in response to the pandemic.
At the same time, the pandemic saw hundreds of millions of people lose their jobs and face destitution and hunger. The number of people living in poverty increased by between 200 million and 500 million in 2020, and could take a decade to gain their financial footing and rebound to pre-crisis levels in governments do not act.
The pandemic also revealed that more than three billion people lacked access to healthcare and that three-quarters of workers had no social protections such as unemployment benefit or sick pay. In low- and lower-middle-income countries more than half of workers were in poverty despite having jobs, the report said.
Using data specially provided by the World Bank, Oxfam said that in a worst-case scenario global poverty levels would be higher in 2030 than they were before the pandemic struck, with 3.4 billion people still living on less than $5.50 a day.
Bucher said women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis and are “more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare.”
While urging governments to ensure that everyone has access to a coronavirus vaccine and financial support if they lose their job, Bucher said policies in a post-coronavirus world should focus on ending poverty and protecting the planet.
“They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it,” she said.
“These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few,” she added.
To do this, the organization argues for a temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that “have gained the most during the pandemic,” which it says could generate $104 billion, "enough to provide unemployment protection for all workers, and financial support for all children and elderly people in the poorest countries."
Oxfam has traditionally sought to inspire debate at the World Economic Forum's annual gathering of business and political elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Though the pandemic means there won't be any trek up the mountains this week, organizers are putting on a virtual gathering.
Leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are all set to take part in the meetings from Jan. 25-29. Joining them will be a host of chief executives and campaigning organizations, including Oxfam and the likes of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
MORE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS:
- Jeff Bezos could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before the pandemic.
- Worldwide sales of private jets soared when commercial travel was banned
- Globally, women are overrepresented in the sectors of the economy that are hardest hit by the pandemic. If women were represented at the same rate as men in those sectors, 112 million women would no longer be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs.
- The World Bank has calculated that if countries act now to reduce inequality then poverty could return to pre-crisis levels in just three years, rather than in over a decade.
- With unprecedented support from governments for their economies, the stock market has been booming, driving up billionaire wealth, even while the real economy faces the deepest recession in a century. In contrast, after the financial crisis in 2008, it took five years for billionaire wealth to return to its pre-crisis highs