As the pandemic severely hit the economy leaving millions out of job, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown and by 90 per cent since 2009 to $422.9 billion, ranking India sixth after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France, a new report by Oxfam said on Monday.
The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world's poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, reveals the report titled 'The Inequality Virus,' published on the opening day of the World Economic Forum's 'Davos Agenda'.
"In fact, the increase in wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the NREGS scheme for 10 years or the health ministry for 10 years," according to the Oxfam report.
Since March as the government announced lockdown, India's top 100 billionaires saw their fortunes increase by Rs 12.97 trillion.
The money was enough to give every one of the 138 million poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045 each".
"We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began. The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus," said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
"Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic -- shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors -- are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table".
Worldwide, billionaires saw their wealth increase by a staggering $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020.
Their total wealth now stands at $11.95 trillion, which is equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic.
Only three of the 50 richest billionaires in the world saw their fortunes diminish over that period, losing $3 billion between them.
"Elon Musk increased his net wealth by $128.9bn, Jeff Bezos by $78.2 billion. The world's 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540bn over this period," the report mentioned.
The report showed that COVID-19 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.
"Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly White male, billionaires to bounce back," the findings showed.
Oxfam's report showed how the rigged economic system is enabling a super-rich elite to amass wealth in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression while billions of people are struggling to make ends meet.
It revealed how the pandemic is deepening long-standing economic, racial and gender divides.
"Women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare," said Bucher.
Women are hardest hit, yet again.
"Globally, women are overrepresented in the low-paid precarious professions that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. If women were represented at the same rate as men in these sectors, 112 million women would no longer be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs," the report noted.
Infection and mortality rates are higher in poorer areas of countries such as France, India, and Spain while England's poorest regions experience mortality rates double that of the richest areas.
"Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice. Governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet," added Bucher.
"Governments must ensure everyone has access to a COVID-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job."