The Inequality Virus: Bringing together a world torn apart by coronavirus through a fair, just and sustainable economy


Published by Oxfam International on January 25, 2021, this report discusses the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on inequality in countries worldwide.

The report notes that the pandemic worsened economic, gender and racial inequality in several countries. Billionaires worldwide increased their wealth by a total of 3.9 trillion dollars between March and December 2020. At the same time, hundreds of millions lost their jobs and faced poverty and hunger. It is estimated that the total number of people living in poverty increased by between 200 and 500 million in 2020.

This report contains the results of Oxfam’s survey of 295 economists from 79 countries about the impact of Covid-19 on global inequality. The 83-page publication has three chapters. A growing gulf between the rich and the poor (chapter 1) covers economic inequality worldwide, and the pandemic’s impact on it. People falling through the cracks in the system (chapter 2) discusses people and communities with limited access to healthcare, rights and social protection. A transformative agenda is now possible (chapter 3) contains the report’s recommendations on reducing inequality.


  1. In March 2020, stock markets around the globe suffered huge shocks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, destroying billions of dollars’ worth of financial assets. However, markets have improved since then. The wealth of the top 1,000 billionaires in the world recovered to pre-pandemic levels within nine months.

  2. According to 2020 data from Development Initiatives (an international development organisation with headquarters in the UK), the poorest people in nearly all countries have experienced a drop in income due to the pandemic. The report states that roughly 40 million people lost their jobs and 52 million descended into poverty in 2020. 

  3. In Oxfam’s survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, 87 per cent of respondents said that the pandemic will lead to a rise in income inequality in their country. About 78 per cent said wealth inequality would increase, 66 per cent foresaw a rise in racial inequality, and 56 per cent stated that a rise in gender inequality was likely.

  4. World Bank data from 2020 indicates that if inequality increases by two percentage points annually, 3.4 billion people worldwide could be living in poverty by 2030. Alternatively, if governments make an effort to reduce poverty by two percentage points annually, there would be 860 million fewer people living in poverty by 2030 than if inequality were to rise at the current pace.

  5. Debt burdens and structural adjustment programmes have led to reduced public spending on health in many countries. Even those from poor and marginalised sections in such countries have to bear the cost of healthcare themselves. In India, people pay for 70 per cent of their own health expenses, and most basic health services are inaccessible to half of the population.

  6. Women are over-represented in sectors of the economy hardest hit by the pandemic. Racial groups that tend to be employed in informal sectors are also more likely than other groups to see their incomes and employment hit hard by the pandemic.

  7. It is estimated that maternal deaths increased by a monthly 8 to 39 per cent in low- and middle-income countries due to the pandemic-related reduction in perinatal care. Between March and May in Nepal, the number of childbirths in healthcare facilities reduced by half due to lockdown restrictions. The risk of neonatal deaths increased by three-fold during this time.

  8. States have, in many cases, neglected historically oppressed communities in their healthcare responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the US, the report states, black patients with Covid-19 symptoms are less likely to be tested than white patients.

  9. The rise in wealth of the world’s 10 richest billionaires since the pandemic began is enough to prevent anyone from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for everyone on Earth – the report states.

  10. Oxfam recommends that governments increase wealth taxes and invest generated revenues on Covid-19 rescue plans focused on supporting the most marginalised groups. If countries like Jordan, Egypt and Morocco had implemented a two per cent wealth tax from 2010, the report states, they could have raised more money than all the International Monetary Fund lending they received in recent years.

    Focus and Factoids by Nivedita Gautam.


Oxfam International


Oxfam International


25 Jan, 2021