Oxfam urges radical economic rejig for post-COVID world

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Anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam on January 25 warned that the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic will lead to the biggest increase in global inequality on record unless governments radically rejig their economies.

In a report geared to inform discussions at the World Economic Forum’s online panels of political and business leaders this week, Oxfam said the richest 1,000 people have already managed to recoup the losses they recorded in the early days of the pandemic because of the bounce back in stock markets.

By contrast, Oxfam said it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover their losses.

“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic — shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.

Using figures from Forbes’ 2020 Billionaire List, Oxfam said the world’s 10 richest people, including the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett, saw their fortunes increase by half a trillion dollars since the crisis began even though the global economy remains smaller than when the pandemic started a year ago.

Meanwhile, using data specially provided by the World Bank, Oxfam said that in a worst-case scenario global poverty levels would be higher in 2030 than they were before the pandemic struck, with 3.4 billion people still living on less than $5.50 a day.

Ms. Bucher said women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis and are “more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare.” While urging governments to ensure that everyone has access to a coronavirus vaccine and financial support if they lose their job, Ms. Bucher said policies in a post-coronavirus world should focus on ending poverty and protecting the planet.

“They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it,” she said.

“These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few,” she added.

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.

Though the pandemic means there won’t be any trek up the mountains this week, organisers are putting on a virtual gathering. Leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are all set to take part in the meetings from Jan. 25-29.

Joining them will be a host of chief executives and campaigning organisations, including Oxfam and the likes of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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