Mega-rich recoup COVID-losses in record-time yet billions will live in poverty for at least a decade
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25 JAN 2021

Mega-rich recoup COVID-losses in record-time yet billions will live in poverty for at least a decade

The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, reveals a new Oxfam report ‘The Inequality Virus’ today on the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Agenda’.

A new global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, reveals that 87 per cent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic. The report also shows that COVID-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: ‘We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began. The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus.’ 

Women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare.

In Hong Kong, with the continued effects of COVID-19, the unemployment rate has reached 6.6 per cent – the highest in 16 years – and 246,000 people are now out of work. 

Kalina Tsang, Director General of Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK), said: ‘Governments created the inequality crisis – they must act now to end it. In Hong Kong, we are calling on the HKSAR Government to take more proactive measures to help unemployed people from poor households. The government should, for instance, offer the poor and unemployed a short-term, monthly unemployment allowance of no less than HK$5,000 for at least six months through the Community Care Fund.’

Billionaires’ fortunes rebounded as stock markets recovered despite continued recession in the real economy. Their total wealth hit US$11.95 trillion in December 2020, equivalent to G20 governments’ total COVID-19 recovery spending. The road to recovery will be much longer for people who were already struggling pre-COVID-19. When the virus struck, over half of workers in poor countries were living in poverty, and three-quarters of workers globally had no access to social protections like sick pay or unemployment benefits.

Oxfam believes all governments must act now to end inequality and put this at the core of their economic recovery plans. Steps to a fairer future include cancelling the debt of developing countries, and formulating fairer tax policies to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few.

Key findings from the report:

  • The recession is over for the richest. The world’s ten richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began – more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work.
  • Women are hardest hit by the pandemic. Women make up roughly 70 per cent of the global health and social care workforce − essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.
  • Inequality is costing lives. Afro-descendants in Brazil are 40 per cent more likely to die of COVID-19 than White people. Infection and mortality rates are higher in poorer areas of countries such as France, India, and Spain, while England’s poorest regions experience mortality rates double that of the richest areas.

– End –


Notes to Editor

  • Download ‘The Inequality Virus’ and the methodology document to learn more about how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report.
  • Oxfam is part of the Fight Inequality Alliance, a growing global coalition of civil society organisations and activists that are holding the Global Protest to Fight Inequality from 23-30 January in around 30 countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Norway and the Philippines, to promote solutions to inequality and demand that economies work for everyone.
  • Please support Oxfam's Coronavirus Response Appeal.


About Oxfam
Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.


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