Covid19 pandemic: Billionaire wealth soar as millions become poorer

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"The coronavirus crisis has shown us that for most of humanity there has never been a permanent exit from poverty and insecurity. makes no common, moral or economic sense to allow billionaires to profit from the crisis in the face of such suffering", the report stressed.

This year Oxfam's inequality report aptly titled, The Inequality Virus: Bringing Together a World Torn Apart by Coronavirus through a Fair, Just and Sustainable Economy suggests the need for urgent and radical change in the existing economic system, which has "exploited and exacerbated patriarchy, white supremacy and neoliberal principles" driving extreme inequality, poverty and injustice.

Oxfam has traditionally sought to inspire debate at the World Economic Forum's annual gathering of business and political elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

As per International Labour Organization (ILO), with a share of nearly 90 per cent of people working in the informal economy, about 40 crore workers in the informal economy are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the crisis.

According to the report, billionaires such as Gautam Adani, Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Mangalam Birla and Laxmi Mittal working in coal, oil, telecom, medicines, pharmaceutical, education and retail increased their wealth "exponentially" since March 2020.

The top 100 billionaires in India earned Rs 12.98 lakh crore in the 10 months starting March 2020, when the Covid-19 lockdown first kicked in, while around 92 million people lost their jobs in the informal sector in the first two months, global NGO network Oxfam has said in a report.

The Oxfam's report said that the wealth of India's top 100 billionaires shot up by Rs 12.97 trillion, which is enough money to support the vaccination drive of the 138 million poorest Indians.

It said, "While the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, a majority of the not-so-fortunate Indians lost their livelihood". "Seventeen million women lost their jobs in April 2020", it stated. While the report usually focused on the growing inequality between the rich and the poor in its past editions, this year it was Covid-centric.

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And it's doubtful numerous almost 16 million people now receiving unemployment benefits will be back to work by then. That can result in temporary lapses of aid as recipients have to reapply to overwhelmed state unemployment offices.

According to the report, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent between March and December 2020 to $422.9 billion (over Rs 30 lakh crore). The mass reverse migration on foot by millions during the lockdown turned a health crisis into a humanitarian one. "The world's 10 richest billionaires have seen their wealth increase by $540 billion over this period", the report said.

"Over 300 informal workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care". Oxfam said that the National Human Rights Commission had recorded more than 2582 cases of human rights violations as early as April 2020.

It noted that the long disruption of schooling risked doubling the rate of out of school, especially among the poor. For instance, the digital mode of delivering education proved exclusionary with only 4 per cent of rural households having a computer and less than 15 per cent an interne connection.

"Only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent households had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93 per cent of the top 20 per cent households in India", it added. It added that 59.6 per cent of India's population lives in a room or less.

Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: "We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the deep divide between the rich and poor proving as deadly as the virus itself".

Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said if not addressed immediately, the crisis could worsen.

"Newer and creative ways of catering to the needs of the masses is possible if governments are committed to the needs of its people".

Oxfam says the figure is more than enough to pay for a worldwide COVID-19 vaccine and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic.

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