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‘Deadly as the virus’: Alarm sounded over economic trend

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
Crowd of people walking over the crosswalk at sunset. Sydney, Australia
This is the new threat facing the world. Image: Getty

Australia’s 31 billionaires have recorded a $85 billion increase in their wealth since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, prompting Oxfam to sound the alarm over soaring inequality.

Oxfam analysis found that that increase in wealth would be enough to give Australia’s poorest 2.5 million people a payment of more than $33,300 each, and that as Australia battles the COVID-19 downturn, that wealth gap was “particularly shocking”.

“As hundreds of thousands of people were losing their jobs and entering an incredibly unstable employment market, this small group of elite Australians saw their incomes recover very quickly, before beginning their upwards trajectory once more,” Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain said.

Globally, the 1,000 richest people recovered their COVID-19 losses within nine months. However, the world’s poorest people will need a decade to return to their pre-pandemic financial position, the new Oxfam report, The Inequality Virus revealed.

At the same time, the world’s richest 10 men have seen their combined wealth jump by half a trillion dollars – enough to vaccinate the global population against COVID-19.

"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,” Morgain said.

"Globally, women and marginalised 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.”

Morgain said the Australian government’s decision to end the JobSeeker supplement is a “cruel blow” and will leave 1.4 million people living on $40 a day.

And as frontline workers, including nurses, have been the public face of the COVID-19 battle, their wages have stagnated.

“We found that it would take a nurse 259 years to earn what a top Australian CEO earns, while a CEO could earn the annual salary of a nurse in 1.3 days,” Morgain said.

“The critical nature of the work of all of our healthcare workers who continue to tackle this crisis, as well as how that work has been undervalued in the past, has rarely been more apparent in the Australian community as it is now.”

Oxfam called on the Australian Government to centre ending inequality at the heart of its response to COVID-19, describing extreme inequality as a policy decision – not an inevitability.

“The fight against inequality and poverty must be at the heart of economic recovery efforts.

“Our Government must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a sustainable social welfare safety net, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.”

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