A new Oxfam report finds the pandemic has aggravated inequality, as the world's richest have made massive gains while the world's poor have fallen further behind.
The combined wealth of the world’s ten richest men rose by $540 billion during the pandemic, an amount that would be enough to prevent the world from falling into poverty because of the virus and to cover vaccinations for everyone, according to UK charity Oxfam.
In a report titled ‘The Inequality Virus’, Oxfam ominously highlights the momentous destitution wrought by the virus, declaring that history will “likely remember the pandemic as the first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on Earth at the same time.”
During the first months of the pandemic, a stock market collapse saw the ultra-wealthy experience dramatic reductions in their wealth. That setback however was short-lived, and within nine months the fortunes of the top 1,000 billionaires had returned to their pre-pandemic highs.
Worldwide, billionaires’ wealth increased by $3.9 trillion between 18 march and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth now stands at $11.95tn, equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic.
The report said that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s worth had climbed so much between March-September 2020 that he could have given all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still would have retained his pre-pandemic wealth.
Meanwhile for the world’s poorest, recovery could take 14 times longer or more than a decade. Oxfam estimates that between 200 million and 500 million more people were living in poverty in 2020, reversing the decline in global poverty seen over the past two decades.
“The coronavirus crisis has shown us that for most of humanity there has never been a permanent exit from poverty and insecurity. Instead, at best, there has been a temporary and deeply vulnerable reprieve,” the report added.
Earlier this week, the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated the economic blow from the pandemic last year cost workers around the world $3.7tn in lost earnings – about 4.4 percent of global GDP.
8.8 percent of global working hours, or the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs, were wiped out in the process – approximately four times greater than the number lost during the 2008 financial crisis.
The Oxfam report surveyed 295 economists from 79 countries on the impact of the pandemic on global inequality and found that 87 percent of respondents think that it will lead to an increase or major increase in income inequality in their country. 78 percent of respondents say that it will exacerbate wealth inequality.
56 percent thought it would worsen gender inequality, and more than two-thirds thought the same of racial inequality. Another two-thirds also felt that their government did not have a plan in place to mitigate inequality.
Oxfam urged governments to consider taxes on the super-rich, face down pharmaceutical corporations to urgently deliver a “People’s Vaccine”, and focus on building a greener economy to combat climate change.