Inequality Kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19
The UK-based organisation Oxfam International published this briefing paper concerning the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on January 17, 2022. The paper was written by Nabil Ahmed, Head of Executive Strategy and Communications at Oxfam International, with contributions from Anna Marriott, Nafkote Dabi, Megan Lowthers, Max Lawson and Leah Mugehera.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the 10 richest billionaires in the world doubled their wealth while the majority of the world’s population grew poorer. The paper examines this wealth gap between the world’s richest and the poorest people. It states that economic and political policies are structured to benefit the privileged few at the cost of the rest, perpetually worsening inequalities. These inequalities resulted in people from underprivileged groups – women and girls, people with disabilities, those living in poverty, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, or those belonging to certain castes or religions – being disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
The briefing paper notes that the actions of governments during the pandemic prove that they can provide the “fiscal firepower” necessary for building an equitable future for all. It advocates measures like progressive taxation to redistribute the wealth of the richest people and corporations to improve the quality of life of the masses.
The 60-page document contains a summary followed by three sections: An unprecedented rise in billionaire wealth as billions suffer (Section 1); Economic violence (Section 2); and Solutions (Section 3).
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an unprecedented surge in the wealth of the world’s 2,775 billionaires. The fortunes of these billionaires grew more in 2020-21 than in the previous 14 years, resulting in the largest ever recorded annual increase in the wealth of billionaires.
People from low- and middle-income countries are two times more susceptible to die from Covid-19 than people from high-income countries, the paper notes citing a 2022 article from the journal BMJ Global Health.
The Covid-19 pandemic severely affected women, the paper states. Collectively, women lost 800 billion dollars in earnings during 2020. Estimates state that around 13 million fewer women were employed in 2021 compared to 2019. Women engaged in informal work were especially impacted. Forced to do unpaid care work, many of them grew even poorer than before the pandemic.
Citing a press release by the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation advocating for girls’ education, the paper notes that 20 million girls worldwide are at risk of discontinuing school due to the pandemic.
The briefing paper defines ‘economic violence’ as a combination of economic policies as well as social and political structures that disproportionately hurt people living in poverty. Even before the pandemic, structurally perpetuated inequality resulted in the deaths of roughly 15,000 people each day in poor countries due to lack of access to healthcare.
Gender-based violence was estimated to rise by around 20 per cent during the pandemic induced lockdown. Despite the projections and evidence of increasing violence against women, transgender and gender non-conforming people across the world, only 0.0002 per cent of funding for Covid-19 response was allocated to addressing gender-based violence.
The United Kingdom saw a threefold increase in murders of women during lockdown months, the paper cites from a 2021 article from the Journal of Gender Studies. Quoting data from the Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide research project, the paper also states that murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people rose by six per cent between 2019 and 2020.
The paper highlights the extreme inequality between the carbon emissions of the rich and the poor. Rich countries are responsible for approximately 92 per cent of all global CO2 emissions.
The wealthiest one percent of the world’s population is responsible for two times the amount of emissions as the poorest 50 per cent. Moreover, by the year 2030, the carbon footprint of this richest group of people is expected to reach 30 times higher than the limit necessary to keep the global warming limited to 1.5°C.
The paper insists that rich countries must provide debt-free support to economically vulnerable countries in an effort to reduce inequalities. It also advocates imposing one-off ‘solidarity taxes’ on the very rich and the introduction of progressive taxation policies on capital and wealth.
Focus and Factoids by Kanak Rajadhyaksha.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Lead Author: Nabil Ahmed
Contributing Authors: Anna Marriott, Nafkote Dabi, Megan Lowthers, Max Lawson, Leah Mugehera
Oxfam International, Oxford, UK
17 Jan, 2022