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The Inequality Virus Report: Oxfam International

  • 25 Jan 2021
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Inequality Virus Report, released by Oxfam International, has found that the Covid pandemic deeply increased the existing inequalities in India and around the world.

  • The report states that Covid has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once - the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.

Key Points

  • Impact of the Pandemic on Rich vis-a-vis Poor:
    • India introduced one of the earliest and most stringent lockdowns in the face of the pandemic and its enforcement brought the economy to a standstill, triggering unemployment, hunger, distress migration and untold hardship in its wake.
    • The rich were able to escape the pandemic’s worst impact; and while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, a majority of the not-so-fortunate Indians lost their livelihood.
    • The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and by 90% since 2009 to USD 422.9 billion, ranking India sixth in the world after the USA, China, Germany, Russia and France.
  • Impact on Informal Sector:
    • India’s large informal workforce was the worst hit as it made up 75% of the 122 million jobs lost.
    • Informal workers had relatively fewer opportunities to work from home and suffered more job loss compared to the formal sector.
    • The 40-50 million seasonal migrant workers, typically engaged working in construction sites, factories etc. were particularly distressed.
  • Impact on Education:
    • Over the past year as education shifted online, India saw the digital divide worsening inequalities.
    • On the one hand, private providers experienced exponential growth yet, on the other, just 3% of the poorest 20% of Indian households had access to a computer and just 9% had access to the internet.
    • It noted that the long disruption of schooling risked doubling the rate of out of school, especially among the poor.
  • Health Inequalities:
    • Oxfam found that since India does not report case data desegregated by socio-economic or social categories, it is difficult to gauge the distribution of the disease amongst various communities.
    • India currently has the world’s second-largest cumulative number of Covid-19 positive cases and globally, the poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities have higher rates of Covid-19 prevalence.
    • The spread of disease was swift among poor communities, often living in cramped areas with poor sanitation and using shared common facilities such as toilets and water points.
  • Sanitation Facility:
    • Only 6% of the poorest 20% households had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93% of the top 20% households in India.
    • In terms of caste, just 37.2% of Scheduled Castes (SCs) households and 25.9% of Scheduled Tribes (STs) households had access to non-shared sanitation facilities, compared to 65.7% for the general population.
  • Gender Disparities:
    • Employment:
      • The unemployment rate among women rose from already high 15% before Covid to 18%.
      • This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about 8% or USD 218 billion.
      • Of the women who retained their jobs, as many 83% were subjected to a cut in income according to a survey by the Institute of Social Studies Trust.
    • Health:
      • Beyond income and job losses, poorer women also suffered healthwise because of the disruption in regular health services and Anganwadi centres.
      • It is predicted that the closure of family planning services will result in 2.95 million unintended pregnancies, 1.80 million abortions (including 1.04 million unsafe abortions) and 2,165 maternal deaths.
    • Domestic Violence:
  • Suggestions:
    • There is an urgent need for policymakers to tax the wealthy individuals and rich corporates and use that money to invest in free quality public services and social protection to support everyone, from cradle to grave.
    • Reducing inequalities is very important but it should be a medium-term target. Between growth and distribution, India must get the sequencing right.
    • India needs to grow first before it can distribute. Otherwise, it can get stuck in a low-income equilibrium.

Oxfam International

  • Oxfam International is a group of independent non-governmental organisations formed in 1995.
  • The name “Oxfam” comes from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, founded in Britain in 1942.
    • The group campaigned for food supplies to starving women and children in enemy-occupied Greece during the Second World War.
  • It aims to maximize efficiency and achieve greater impact to reduce global poverty and injustice.
  • The Oxfam International Secretariat is based in Nairobi, Kenya.


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