THE rich are getting richer at a much faster pace while the poor are still struggling to earn the minimum wage as well as access quality education and healthcare services, an Oxfam report, published on January 17, 2022, has said.
According to the global Oxfam Davos report of 2022 titled ‘Inequality Kills‘, the rich have become richer while the income of the rest of the world — about 99 per cent of humanity — dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Strikingly, the wealth of the world’s 10 richest persons has doubled since the pandemic began, while the lower incomes for the world’s poorest contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day.
“The incomes of 99 per cent of humanity are worse off because of COVID-19. Widening economic, gender, and racial inequalities — as well as the inequality that exists between countries — are tearing our world apart,” the report stated.
The report reiterates how these widening gaps between the rich and the poor and rising inequalities affect women and children the most.
The world’s billionaires’ have seen their wealth surge by $5 trillion since the pandemic began, the highest jump in the last 14 years since records began.
According to the report just a one-off 99 per cent tax on “pandemic windfalls” of the world’s 10 richest men’s could pay:
- to make enough vaccines for the world
- to provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation and reduce gender-based violence in over 80 countries
- All this, while still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
Following are some of the key findings of the report with regard to India.
A Country Of Billionaires
India had the third highest number of billionaires in the world, just behind China and the United States. It now has more billionaires than France, Sweden and Switzerland combined, indeed there has been a 39 per cent increase in the number of billionaires in India in 2021.
This surge comes at a time when India’s unemployment rate was as high as 15 per cent in urban areas and the healthcare system was on the brink of a collapse during India’s second Covid-19 wave in April 2021.
India added a total of 40 new billionaires in the year 2021.
Declining Income Of Indian Households
The report points out that the income of 84 per cent Indian households declined in 2021 while the number of billionaires in the country grew from 102 to 142 during the last year.
In 2021, the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of Rs 57.3 lakh crore. However, in the same year, the bottom 50 per cent of the country’s population held just 6 per cent of the national wealth.
Oxfam’s analysis during the coronavirus pandemic (March 2020 to November 2021) showed that the wealth of Indian billionaires rose from Rs 23.14 lakh crore to Rs 53.16 lakh crore. In contrast, more than 4.6 crore Indians were estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. This number was nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations.
Increasing Demand Of Employment
The Reserve Bank of India’s forecast for India’s GDP growth was projected in the range of (-)8.7 per cent to (-)7.0 per cent in 2020-21. The Oxfam report says that more than 120 million jobs were lost, including 92 million from the informal sector in the same year.
The fact that the government’s employment programme, MGNREGA, witnessed the highest number enrolments in 2021 is testimony to the dire need of employment and income security for India’s absolutely poor.
Wealth Tax For The Rich
Oxfam suggests imposing a wealth tax on the rich as a counter to the growing wealth inequality in India.
The report also notes that India could fund its entire vaccination programme cost of Rs 50,000 Crore by taxing the rich families only 1 per cent of their wealth. In fact, doing this could also provide India with nearly 17.7 lakh extra oxygen cylinders. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a huge rush for oxygen cylinders and insurance claims during the second wave last year.
“A 4 per cent wealth tax on 98 richest families of India could account for the Union health ministry’s budget for two years and the mid-day meal programme for 17 years”, the Oxfam report said.
High Cost Healthcare
According to the report,the rates of health services and facilities for COVID-19 increased manifold, making it difficult for even the middle-class to afford. For instance, The raging rates forced the government to cap the rates of COVID-19 tests and treatments during the second wave of the pandemic in April 2021.
Despite the capping of prices for private hospitals across the country, treatment at a private hospital still remained unaffordable for the poor and uninsured, leading to the unending cycle of credit and debts.
The report says that the cost of treatment of COVID-19 at a superspecialty private hospital can go up to 83 times the monthly income of the 13 crore people in India living in extreme poverty and 31 times the average monthly income of an Indian citizen.