Ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic, while incomes of 99 per cent of humanity fall

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- Short URL: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/mc/np588q/

New billionaire created every 26 hours, as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds

The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion - at a rate of $1.3 billion a day - during the pandemic while the incomes of 99 per cent of humanity have fallen with over 160 million people forced into poverty and inequality contributing to the death of one person every four seconds, an Oxfam report reveals today.

The report Inequality Kills, published on the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, finds that a new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the start of the pandemic while the collective wealth of all 2,755 billionaires surged more than in the last 14 years put together. At $5 trillion dollars, this is the biggest increase in billionaire wealth since Forbes records began in 1987.

If the ten richest men were to lose 99.999 per cent of their combined wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 per cent of people on the planet and their wealth is six times more than that of the poorest 3.1 billion people.

The enormous rise in wealth is juxtaposed by a sharp increase in poverty around the world. Over 160 million more people are living on less than $5.50 a day than when the pandemic began. Inequality is now contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds. This conservative finding is based on deaths globally from lack of access to healthcare, hunger, gender-based violence and climate breakdown.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive said:

“The explosion in billionaire’s fortunes at a time when poverty is increasing lays bare the fundamental flaws in our economies. Even during a global crisis our unfair economic systems manage to deliver eye-watering windfalls for the wealthiest but fail to protect the poorest - it is an avoidable tragedy that every day people die because they lack essentials such as food and healthcare.

“Today’s generation of leaders can start to right these wrongs by implementing progressive taxes on capital and wealth and deploying that revenue to save lives and invest in our future. They should make sure that Covid-19’s long-term legacy is quality universal healthcare and social protection for all. Governments have an historic opportunity to back bold economic plans based on greater equality that change the deadly course we are on.”

The report also details how:

  • Developing countries, denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies, have been forced to slash social spending as their debt levels spiral and now face the prospect of austerity measures.
  • The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to 135 years. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women in work now than there were in 2019. Over 20 million girls are at risk of never returning to school.
  • The pandemic has hit racialized groups hardest. During the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of Covid-19 than the White British population. In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people - a fact that is directly linked to historical racism and slavery.
  • Analysis of emissions by income group shows that over-consumption by the world’s richest people is one of the main drivers of today’s climate crisis. 20 of the richest billionaires are estimated, on average, to be emitting as much as 8,000 times more carbon than the billion poorest people.

Oxfam’s analysis showed that a one-off 99 per cent tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls alone would raise $812 billion and could fund:

  • Enough vaccines for the world
  • Universal healthcare and social protection, climate adaptation and gender-based violence reduction in over 80 countries
  • While still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.

Oxfam recommends that governments:

  • Urgently tax the pandemic gains made by billionaires and introduce permanent wealth and capital taxes, investing the trillions that could be raised on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming.
  • Immediately waive intellectual property rules over Covid-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to usher in the end of the pandemic.
  • Tackle sexist laws that discriminate against women and create new gender-equal laws.
  • End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.

Ends

For interviews and more information, please contact Lisa Rutherford on 07917 791 836 /lrutherford@oxfam.org.uk

Notes to editor

The Inequality Kills full report, summary and methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report can be found here

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2021 Billionaires List. Figures on the share of wealth come from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Databook 2021. Figures on the incomes of the 99 per cent are from the World Bank.

According to Forbes, the 10 richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $821 billion dollars since March 2020. The 10 richest men were listed as: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffet.

The World Bank is the source for the increase in the number of people living in poverty

The number of deaths inequality is contributing to, is the lower bound of the sum of estimates of people dying from four inequality-related causes: access to healthcare, hunger, gender-based violence, and climate change. The calculations can be found in the methodology document here

According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2021’, the pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years.

The Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.

According to England’s Office of National Statistics, during the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of Covid-19 than the White British population.

According to the OECD, Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than White people.

In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people.

The proportion of people with Covid-19 who die from the virus in developing countries is roughly double that in rich countries.

Despite strong recommendations by the IMF and OECD, very few rich nations have said they intend to introduce or increase taxes on wealth.

The richest one per cent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth.

Press contact

For comments, interviews, or information please contact Lisa Rutherford (Senior Press Officer – Inequality):