The coronavirus pandemic has aggravated existing inequalities around the world, including India, non-profit group Oxfam said in its latest report. The report, titled ‘The Inequality Virus’, found that the wealth of India’s richest billionaire grew by an estimated 35 per cent. However, as the pandemic brought the economy to almost standstill, around 170,000 lakh people lost their jobs every hour, in the month of April 2020 alone. Moreover, 84 per cent of households suffered varying degrees of income loss.
“Their wealth increased by almost 35 per cent. Also it increased by 90 per cent since 2009 to USD 422.9 billion. This put India in the sixth position in the world after the United States, China, Germany, Russia, and France.”
According to Oxfam report, the fortune of India’s top 100 billionaires increased by Rs 12.97 trillion since March 2020 – when the government announced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. This is more than enough to go give every one of the 138 million poorest Indians an amount of Rs 94,045 each.
The report said that the wealth accumulated by the top 11 billionaires of India during the coronavirus pandemic is sufficient enough to sustain the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme for around 10 years or the health ministry for 10 years.
The report said that it if has been noted, for the first time since records began over a century ago, that the coronavirus pandemic deepened economic inequality in every country.
It said that India’s informal workforce was the worst hit and was around 75 per cent of the total 122 million jobs lost. This is because the sector had very little option of work for from and suffered more than the formal sector.
Ever since the pandemic hit, India’s education shifted online and the digital divide worsened inequalities. While private providers like BYJU’s and Unacademy witnessed exponential growth, only 3 per cent and of the poorest 20 per cent population of India had access to a computer and around 9 per cent managed to access the internet.
Oxfam said that it was difficult to find the spread of COVID-19 amongst various communities in India but it has the second highest cumulative number of coronavirus cases in the world. Globally, the poor and marginalised are among those worst hit by COVID-19.
“COVID-19 spread was swift in poor communities as they lived in places with poor sanitation and shared common toilets and water points,” it said.
It has also given rise to gender disparities. Unemployment has now increased to 18 per cent which was 15 per cent before the pandemic struck. The report said this increase in unemployment may result in a loss in GDP of around 8 per cent or USD 218 billion. 83 per cent of those women who managed to retain their jobs had to accept a pay cut. The pandemic not only made poor women suffer healthwise but it also fuelled domestic violence.
Following the report, Oxfam has urged the policymakers to tax rich corporate and wealthy individuals and use the money to provide free quality public service and social protection.