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Inequality Kills Report by Oxfam

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 19, Jan 2022
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Inequality Kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19” is a report released in January 2022 by Oxfam, a U.K.-based consortium of 21 charitable organisations that have a global presence

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened economic inequalities across the world. 
  • The pandemic has brought into light that peoples’ life chances are directly linked to their access to wealth and healthcare, their positions of power in society, their racial and caste identities, and their geographic locations.

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. 

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.