New Delhi: News 18/Oxfam/ January 25: In its latest report, Oxfam has flagged a worrying post-pandemic trend, highlighting the further widening gap between the rich and the poor in the global world, especially India. “The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown and by 90 per cent since 2009 to $422.9 billion ranking India sixth in the world after US, China, Germany, Russia and France,” stated the report titled ‘The Inequality Virus’.
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. Only a cheque of Rs 94,045 each is required to fulfill the drive. Meanwhile, in a grim contrast, as many as 170,000 Indians suffered a lay off every hour in April last year, following the Centre’s decision to impose the world’s strictest lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moreover, for the world’s richest, it took less than 10 months to recover the financial losses caused by the pandemic, the report pointed out. However, it will take over a decade for the world’s poorest to catch up, it said.
“In fact, the increase in wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the NREGS scheme for 10 years or the health ministry for 10 years,” Oxfam said, adding that the brutal pandemic can increase economic inequality in almost every country at once.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s nine billionaires saw their collective fortunes rise by €3.28 billion last year despite the deepest global recession in decades, Oxfam’s calculations indicated.
Oxfam, a confederation of 20 non-profit groups that focuses on the alleviation of global poverty, was founded in 1942. It is led by Oxfam International.
Oxfam also highlighted the fact that the impact of the virus is also being felt unevenly, with ethnic minorities in certain countries dying at higher rates and women being overrepresented in the sectors of the economy that are hardest hit by the pandemic.
The report is timed to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos event: an entire week of global programming will be dedicated to helping leaders choose innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery over the next year.
Oxfam argued in its report that fairer economies are the key to a rapid economic recovery from Covid-19.
It calculated that a temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that have gained the most during the pandemic could have raised $104 billion in 2020, an amount it said was enough to have provided unemployment benefits for all workers and financial support for all children and elderly people in low- and middle-income countries.
“Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.
“The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts” with investments in public services financed by a tax system where the richest individuals and corporations pay their fair share.
The report further gave an insight to the sector-wise loss of workforce in India. The country’s massive informal workforce was the worst hit as it made up 75 per cent of the 122 million jobs lost. Informal workers had relatively fewer opportunities to work from home and suffered more job loss compared to the formal sector. The 40-50 million seasonal migrant workers, typically engaged working in construction sites, factories etc. were particularly distressed, the report said.
Besides, the pandemic forced the education system to shift online, which further worsened inequalities among students. While private providers such as BYJU’s (currently valued at $10.8 billion) and Unacademy (valued at $1.45 billion) experienced exponential growth yet, just 3 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent of Indian households had access to a computer and just 9 per cent had access to the internet.
“The spread of disease was swift among poor communities, often living in crammed areas with poor sanitation and using shared common facilities such as toilets and water points,” the Oxfam reported.
“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.
Meanwhile, in terms of caste, just 37.2 per cent of SC households and 25.9 per cent of ST households had access to non-shared sanitation facilities, compared to 65.7 per cent for the general population.
The unemployment rate among women rose from already high 15 per cent before Covid to 18 per cent. “This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s GDP of about 8 per cent or $218 billion,” states the report.
“It is predicted that the closure of family planning services will result in 2.95 million unintended pregnancies… 1.80 million abortions (including 1.04 million unsafe abortions) and 2,165 maternal deaths,” the report stated.
“While the Coronavirus was being touted as a great equaliser in the beginning, it laid bare the stark inequalities inherent in the society soon after the lockdown was imposed,” said Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar.
“The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
While India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it is also one of the most unequal countries.
Inequality has been rising sharply for the last three decades. The richest have cornered a huge part of the wealth created through crony capitalism and inheritance.
They are getting richer at a much faster pace while the poor are still struggling to earn a minimum wage and access quality education and healthcare services, which continue to suffer from chronic under-investment.
These widening gaps and rising inequalities affect women and children the most.
Let’s look at the numbers
1% : The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth. 73% of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1%, while 67 million Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth.
70: There are 119 billionaires in India. Their number has increased from only 9 in 2000 to 101 in 2017. Between 2018 and 2022, India is estimated to produce 70 new millionaires every day.
10: Billionaires’ fortunes increased by almost 10 times over a decade and their total wealth is higher than the entire Union budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19, which was at INR 24422 billion.
63 M: Many ordinary Indians are not able to access the health care they need. 63 million of them are pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs every year – almost two people every second.
941 yrs: It would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
In the deprived, densely populated state of Bihar, eastern India, the public health system is failing the poorest people living in city slums. There aren’t enough health centers to serve everyone, and the facilities that exist are ill-equipped and under-staffed. The poorest people have no other option – they cannot afford the private health services available in the area.
Healthcare as a luxury good
While the Indian government barely taxes its wealthiest citizens, its spending on public healthcare ranks among the lowest in the world. In the place of a well-funded health service, it has promoted an increasingly powerful commercial health sector.
As a result, decent healthcare is a luxury only available to those who have the money to pay for it. While the country is a top destination for medical tourism, the poorest Indian states have infant mortality rates higher than those in sub-Saharan Africa. India accounts for 17% of global maternal deaths, and 21% of deaths among children below five years.
Pratima, a casualty of India’s growing inequality
Pratima, 32, lives with her husband and 14-year-old daughter in the city of Patna, in Bihar state in eastern India. The family belongs to a marginalized group and lives in one of Patna’s urban slums. Pratima lost her twin babies through delays and poor treatment after she gave birth at her local government clinic.
When she became pregnant, Pratima wasn’t able to get the maternal health services she needed, or the correct advice to prepare for a safe pregnancy and childbirth. Though there is a public primary health center barely 500 meters from her house, it is not equipped to provide antenatal care.
In the eighth month of her pregnancy, she experienced severe contractions and went to the primary health center. She was compelled to wait for hours before an operation was performed. Her baby girl was already dead but her newborn son was still alive. As he was very weak, Pratima and her husband had to find an incubator in a private clinic and ran up a huge debt in order to pay for treatment. When the money ran out, their son was sent back to the government clinic – where he died a few days later.
(The picture at the top shows Indian billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani. Photo: Business Insider)