General Studies IIReports

Oxfam Report: Inequality Kills


Recently, the Oxfam report titled “Inequality Kills’’ was released, the report pointed out a stark income divide worsened by the Covid pandemic, globally and in India.

Oxfam Report: Inequality Kills

What is the “Inequality Kills” report?

  • Vaccine apartheid: The report argues that unequal access to vaccines between countries (Vaccine Apartheid) and the lack of universal vaccination programs in many countries as a cause of the emergence of multiple new strains of the coronavirus that has led to the continuation of the pandemic. 
  • Heightened Inequality: The report points out that 160 million people were rendered poor during the pandemic, while the ten richest people doubled their fortunes since the start of the pandemic.
  • Govt stimulus increased Billionaires Wealth: It also demonstrates how emergency government expenditure (estimated at $16 trillion) that was meant to keep economies afloat during this crisis, inflated stock prices. This resulted in billionaires’ collective wealth increasing by $5 trillion during the pandemic (Oxfam calls this process as “the billionaire variant”)
  • Inequality Kills: The central argument of the report is that inequality is a death sentence for people that are marginalised by social and economic structures and removed from political decision making. The report argues for sustained and immediate action to end the pandemic, address global inequality and initiate concerted measures to tackle the climate emergency. 

Indian Scenario

  • Decline in Social Security Expenditure:
    • A Covid continued to ravage India, the country’s healthcare budget saw a 10% decline from RE (Revised Estimates) of 2020-21.
    • There was a 6% cut in allocation for education.
    • The budgetary allocation for social security schemes declined from 1.5% of the total Union budget to 0.6%.
  • Growing Inequalities: According to the report, the income of 84% of households in the country declined in 2021, but at the same time, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142.
    • Growing Rich: During the pandemic, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased from Rs 23.14 lakh crore to Rs 53.16 lakh crore.
      • India has the third-highest number of billionaires in the world, just behind China and the United States.
      • There is a 39% increase in the number of billionaires in India in 2021.
    • Growing Poor: More than 4.6 crore Indians are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020. This is nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations.
      • Also, in the same year, the share of the bottom 50% of the population in national wealth was a mere 6%.
      • The unemployment in India has also increased.
  • Blow to Gender Parity: Women collectively lost Rs 59.11 lakh crore in earnings in 2020, with 1.3 crores fewer women in work now than in 2019.
  • Increasing Fiscal Deficit: Lowering corporate taxes from 30% to 22% to attract investment last year (2020) resulted in a loss of Rs 1.5 lakh crore, which contributed to the increase in India’s fiscal deficit.
  • Unequal Federalism: Despite the country’s federal structure, the revenue resources remained concentrated in the Centre’s hands.
    • However, the management of the pandemic was left to the states – who were not equipped to handle it with its financial or human resources.

Why does the report say that inequality kills?

  • Inequality is institutionalised violence against poorer people. The report categorically states, “Extreme inequality is a form of ‘economic violence’—where structural and systemic policy and political choices that are skewed in favor of the richest and most powerful people result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people worldwide.” 

  • Weakens Social Fabric: The report identifies higher inequality with more crime and violence and less social trust. 
  • Disproportionate Social Impact: The brunt of inequality and the violence it begets is borne, for instance, by women across the world, Dalits in India, Blacks & Native Americans in USA and indigenous groups in many countries. 
  • Widened Gender Inequality: Women who were already unequal before the pandemic are now more unequal because of increased economic inequality.
    • Lockdowns led to an increase in violence against women worldwide. 
    • 13 million women have not returned to the workforce and 20 million girls are at risk of losing access to education. 
    • The gender equality has suffered a huge set back which will take at least 135 years to correct. 
  • Climate crisis exaggerated by inequality between countries: Extreme neoliberal models of economic growth have led to a skewed system of carbon-intensive production, that favours richer countries while shifting the risk onto poorer countries. 
    • Wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%”. 
  • Hunger deaths: The report shows how poverty, caused by rising inequality, also leads to hunger and deaths due to hunger. For instance, 369 million children have reportedly lost access to school meals during the pandemic. For millions of these children this was their most nutritious meal of the day.

How does the report propose to rectify global inequality?

  • The “Inequality Kills” report proposes far-reaching changes to structures of government, economy and policy-making to fight inequality.
  •  It urgently asks for “vaccine recipes” to be made open-source so that every qualified vaccine manufacturer can manufacture them. In doing so the report asks for monopolies over vaccines held by pharmaceutical giants and anchored in place through the World Trade Organisation, to end. 
  • The report then asks for governments to “claw” back the wealth from billionaires by administering solidarity taxes higher than 90% especially on the billionaires that have profited during and because of the pandemic. 
  • In addition to this, the report asks for permanent cancellation of tax havens, progressive taxation on corporations and an end to tax dodging by corporations. 
  • The report then suggests that all of this regained wealth be redirected towards building income safety nets, universalising healthcare for everyone, investing in green technologies and democratising them, and, investing in protecting women from violence. 
  • Finally, the report advocates for redistributing power along with wealth by strengthening workers’ unions, boosting political representation of marginalised groups, and asserting human rights.

Way Forward

  • Clawback extreme wealth into the real economy to tackle inequality: All governments should immediately tax the gains made by the super-rich during this pandemic period.
  • Redirect that wealth to save lives and invest in our future: All governments must invest in evidence-based and powerful policies to save lives and invest in our future.
    • The legacy of the pandemic must be quality, publicly-funded, and publicly-delivered universal healthcare.
  • Change rules and shift power in the economy and society: This includes ending sexist laws, including those which mean that nearly 3 billion women are legally prevented from having the same choice of jobs as men.

Source: Indian Express

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