Address inequality worsened by COVID
The annual Oxfam Report, a contrarian view on growing inequalities released before the World Economic Forum in Davos, is a treatise this year on how the pandemic has served the super-rich. The report claims that India’s 100 top billionaires increased their wealth by nearly Rs 13 lakh crore during the pandemic, enough to give each of the 138 million poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045.
At the other end of the spectrum, the freeze in the economy hit the poorest in the informal sector. Of the 122 million who lost their jobs, 75 per cent or 92 million jobs were lost in the informal sector. The scenario was much the same at the international level.
Oxfam claims that the combined wealth of the world's 10 richest men rose by $540 billion during the pandemic, enough to prevent the world from falling into poverty because of the virus slowdown, and also pay for vaccines for all.
The report documents how the most vulnerable suffered the most on every front. For instance, in education, the long hiatus in schooling increased the drop-out rate among the children of the poor as they had the least access to digital networks - only 4 per cent of rural households had a computer, and only 15 per cent had access to an internet connection.
As the cost of healthcare and vaccine distribution skyrocket, the charity has been proposing that governments consider a special tax on the super-rich. It's one way of payback as Argentina has done.
By imposing what it calls the 'millionaire-tax' on the top 12,000, the country hopes to finance its rickety health system. The UK, which has spent a mammoth USD 300 billion on COVID-19 support, is considering taxing the top echelons an extra 1 per cent to raise USD 355 billion over five years.
With the Union Budget around the corner, the Indian government could think of similar measures to reduce inequality. However, the pandemic’s impact being far-reaching, the government will have to think beyond fiscal measures and take policy decisions to expand its public healthcare and education system, and also invest in a safety net to ensure the poor don’t suffer during a crisis.