‘Economic violence’: inequality gap widens as billionaires cash in during pandemic

As the super-rich get richer, 99% of the world’s population are worse off

Covid-19 pandemic wealth inequality
(Image credit: Koray Bozkus/Alamy Stock Photo)

Since the start of the pandemic the world’s ten richest people have more than doubled their collective wealth, according to Oxfam. In its report on global inequality, the charity said that from March 2020 to October 2021, the fortunes of the top ten billionaires jumped from $700bn to $1.5trn – an average of $1.3bn per day.

While the pandemic has made the world’s super-rich get far richer, it has also led to more people living in poverty, the BBC reported. In the same timeframe that Elon Musk and the other nine billionaires cashed in, the incomes of 99% of the world’s population fell.

Inequality has contributed to the death of 21,000 people every day due to “a lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger and climate change”, news agency AFP reported. As a result of lockdowns, lower international trade and less international tourism, 160m more people have been pushed into poverty.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

“We enter 2022 with unprecedented concern,” Oxfam warned in its Inequality Kills report. The charity argues that the current global state of extreme inequality is a form of “economic violence” against the world’s poorest people and nations.

‘Off the scale’

A “surge” in share and property prices has widened the gap between rich and poor, The Guardian said. And Oxfam GB’s chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah believes the situation this year has been “off the scale”. While 99% of the world’s population are worse off, there has been a new billionaire created “almost every day during this pandemic”, he added.

The report calculates that 252 men have “more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined”, Al Jazeera reported. And the ten richest men in the world “own more than the least affluent 3.1 billion people”.

“Something is deeply flawed with our economic system,” Sriskandarajah said.

Windfall tax on Covid wealth gains?

In the first 20 months of the pandemic Tesla chief Musk saw his wealth increase ten-fold, according to Forbes magazine’s billionaires list. With his fortune growing by more than 1,000%, this catapulted him to the top of the world’s rich list above Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

During a period when “technology stocks were soaring on Wall Street”, Bezos’s net wealth rose 67%, The Guardian said. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg saw his wealth double while Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s fortune increased by 31%.

Even during a global crisis “our unfair economic systems manage to deliver eye-watering windfalls for the wealthiest, but fail to protect the poorest”, Sriskandarajah said. He called on political leaders to take action on a “historic opportunity to back bolder economic strategies” and to change the “deadly course we are on”.

Oxfam has called for a one-off 99% windfall tax on the Covid wealth gains of the ten richest men, The Guardian reported. This would pay for “enough jabs to vaccinate the entire world and provide the resources to tackle climate change, provide universal healthcare and social protection, and address gender-based violence in 80 countries”. Even after a 99% levy, the top ten billionaires would be $8bn better off between them than they were before the pandemic, the charity said.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.