Jan. 17 (UPI) — The two years of the pandemic have exacerbated the gap between the haves and have nots with the world’s billionaires seeing their fortunes balloon while more than 160 million people have been pushed into poverty, according to a new report from Oxfam.
Published Monday by the Britain-based charity organization, “Inequality Kills” says the COVID-19 pandemic has been made deadlier and prolonged due to inequality.
According to Oxfam, the wealth of the world’s 2,755 billionaires has grown amid the pandemic at a rate never seen before. As governments injected some $16 trillion into economies to keep the world economy working, billionaires saw their wealth jump from $8.6 trillion before the pandemic to $13.8 trillion as of March 2021.
The pandemic has seen a billionaire created every 26 hours, the wealth of the world’s richest 10 men grow by about $1.3 billion every day and at least one person die every four seconds with inequality playing a contributing factor, the report said.
“Billionaires have had a terrific pandemic. Central banks pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom,” Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam’s executive director, said in a statement. “Vaccines were meant to end this pandemic, yet rich governments allowed pharma billionaires and monopolies to cut off the supply to billions of people. The result is that every kind of inequality imaginable risks rising.”
The report states income inequality is a stronger indicator of whether a person will die from COVID-19 than age and that millions would still be alive today if they had access to a vaccine.
“Over the last two years people have died when they contracted an infectious disease because they did not get vaccines in time, even though those vaccines could have been more widely produced and distributed if the technology had been shared,” Jayati Ghosh, a member of the World Health Organization’s Council on the Economics of Health For All, wrote in the report’s introduction.
The report was released ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda on Monday, and Oxfam is calling on governments to tax this new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes and then invest these funds on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation and gender-based violence prevention.
It also calls for governments to end laws that bar workers from unionizing, tackle sexist and racist laws that discriminate against women and racialized people while creating gender-equal laws.
And to allow for more countries to produce vaccines, it is urging rich governments to waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 technologies.
“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Bucher said. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”