Rising inequality a form of economic violence by governments, says Oxfam report

The report claims that misplaced government policies have resulted in rising inequality, with the wealth of the top 10 richest men doubling during the pandemic between March 2020 and November 2021 when the incomes of 99% of the world’s population have suffered

January 17, 2022 by Abdul Rahman
Oxfam inequality report
(Photo: Oxfam India)

Oxfam International released its 2022 inequality report on Monday, January 17, wherein they issued a scathing condemnation of governments across the globe for allowing the growth of unprecedented levels of inequality. The report stated that governments “have allowed the conditions for the COVID-19 virus to dangerously mutate to give birth to a new variant of billionaire wealth.” Inequality, it outlines, kills at least one person every four seconds.

The report claims that the world saw the biggest surge in billionaire wealth in its record. A billionaire was created every 26 hours since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the findings of the report, the top 10 wealthiest men have doubled their fortune at a time when at least 160 million people have been pushed into poverty, between March 2020 and November 2021. 

The Oxfam inequality report is released every year before the meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF has been a crucial instrument in pushing neoliberal economic policies widely held responsible for the rise of global inequality.  

The report highlights that the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has doubled in the pandemic period that began in March 2020. During the same period, the incomes of 99% of the world’s population declined. The report underlines that due to this surge, the total wealth of these 10 men is more than the combined wealth of the bottom 3.1 billion people across the world. 

The report highlights that historical social inequalities have intensified tremendously during the pandemic. Today, 252 men have more wealth than the combined wealth of all women and girls and around 1 billion people from across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report claims that increase in global inequality and centralization of wealth have been the main characteristics of the entire neoliberal era. According to it, ever since 1995, the top 1% of the global population has “captured 20 times more of global wealth than the bottom 50% of humanity.”  

Rise in inequality: A result of structural policy choices 

The report termed the rise of extreme inequality as a form of economic violence which is “perpetrated when structural policy choices are made for the richest and more powerful people.” The hesitancy shown by governments to tax the rich appropriately while allowing them to maximize their profits at the cost of large-scale misery is underlined in the report. It notes how several governments chose to slash social security and public expenditure on health and education even during the pandemic while allowing inflation in essential commodities to run wild.  

The report notes that such policy choices made by the governments have not only led to alarming rise in the wealth of a few rich people, but “causes direct harm to us all” and particularly “to the poorest people, women and girls, and racialized groups most.”  

Professor Jayati Ghosh, in her forward to the report, argues that the effects of such rise in inequality will always be disproportionate. The sufferers are “already likely to be more disadvantaged, more likely to live in low-and middle income countries, to be women or girls, to belong to socially discriminated against groups, to be informal workers.” She said that the tragedy is that most of these affected groups are “more likely to be unable to influence policy.”

Inequality kills

The report notes that so far at least 17 million people have died due to the pandemic, with a large majority of these deaths being caused by inequality. According to the report, in some countries, the poorest people are four times more likely to die due to COVID-19 than the richest, and “people in the middle and low income countries are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infection as people who live in rich countries.”

The report underlines that “inequality of income is a stronger indicator of whether you will die from COVID-19 than age.” It claims that millions of lives would have been saved if they were vaccinated on time, but that vaccine apartheid due to corporate greed to control the technology, denied millions access for the sake of profits. According to the report, “based on conservative estimates, inequality contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day.”

The death rate due to COVID-19 among Black Americans in the US, for example, was much higher than the white population, with 3.4 million more Black people dying from COVID-19.  

Commenting on global inequality and the impact of COVID-19, the report underlines that “present day divides are directly linked to historical legacies of racism, including slavery and colonialism.” 

The report recommends that USD 812 billion could be raised if a 99% tax is imposed on the windfall gains made by just the top 10 billionaires during the pandemic. That would be enough to provide vaccines for all in at least 80 countries and cover their expenditures on social protection, universal health, financial gaps in climate measures and efforts to stop gender-based violence. The report claims even after this tax, the top 10 richest men will remain USD 8 billion “better off than they were before the pandemic.”