LONDON – As the gap between the rich and poor around the globe is spiraling out of control, it is affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people who are being pushed into extreme poverty.
In the last two and a half decades, there had been a steady decline in extreme poverty, but progress “has now ground to a halt,” according to an expert.
Government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in poorer countries “have undermined hard-won gains in the fight against poverty,” Anthony Kamande, Oxfam’s global inequality research coordinator, told Anadolu.
For the first time in 25 years, extreme wealth and extreme poverty “have sharply increased simultaneously,” he said.
The pandemic pushed 90 million people into extreme poverty in 2020, an increase of 12 percent compared to 2019, said the researcher.
In 2022, nearly 670 million people were estimated to be living in extreme poverty, out of which over 410 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, said Kamande.
He estimated that those inflicted by poverty live on “less than USD2.15 per day.”
“The result of this is that we are experiencing preventable deaths and massive suffering, hunger is on the rise, human development is declining, and we are far off from achieving the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), including one on ending extreme hunger by 2030,” he added.
While the wealthiest people and companies continue to thrive, recent crises have caused “huge setbacks in the fight against poverty,” said Kamande. “People are losing jobs in droves, wages are on the decline, the quality of jobs is deteriorating and governments, especially in poorer countries, are facing a fiscal squeeze, all of which are threatening the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people,” he added.
Oxfam warned that on top of the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, skyrocketing food prices and energy costs caused by the war in Ukraine could push a quarter of a billion more people into extreme poverty.
It called for urgent international action, including canceling debt repayments for poorer countries.
Oxfam’s international executive director, Gabriela Bucher, also called for immediate radical action, as without it, “we could be witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory.”
‘The winner takes it all’
“The winner-takes-it-all economic model” is massively rewarding for the already rich people, he said, adding wealth is increasingly being transferred from the poor to the rich.
Since 2020, the richest 1 percent have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth, which is nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population, according to Kamande.
He estimated that billionaire fortunes are increasing by USD2.7 billion a day, even as inflation outpaces the wages of “at least 1.7 billion workers.”
In 2022, food and energy companies more than doubled their profits, paying out USD257 billion to wealthy shareholders, “while over 800 million people went to bed hungry,” he said.
“Now, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, it is clear that the world cannot continue on this trajectory,” added Kamande.
‘Unfair’ tax system
“The trickle-down neoliberal economic model” is continuing to “trick” millions into poverty, he argued.
Oxfam urged that the wealthiest individuals and companies that profit from Covid-19 and the Ukraine war crisis must pay more taxes.
The charity also called on the Group of 20 to assign USD100 billion of an existing austerity fund for poor countries to shield the poorest from inflation through subsidies and cutting taxes on goods and services.
“The rich are increasingly benefiting from a massive tax cut, but the poor are being saddled with myriads of indirect taxes, including sales taxes such as the value added to the tax,” said Kamande.
Lack of investment in deprived sectors continues to hamper poverty eradication as hundreds of millions of people “cannot get even the most basic of healthcare services” or quality education that has become “a preserve of the rich,” he added.
“Tied to the neoliberal economic policies is the issue of market liberalization that has impacted poor people in poorer countries negatively,” Kamande said.
Making the rich pay their “fair share of taxes” would go a long way in raising resources for tackling poverty and inequality.
“For example, a progressive annual wealth tax at 2 percent, 3 percent, and 5 percent on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires would raise USD1.7 trillion annually.
“This would be enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty. In addition, it could fill the funding gap for emergency UN humanitarian appeals and fund a global plan to end hunger,” Kamande said.
He further said that governments should strengthen deprived sectors such as health care, education, social protection, and small-holder farming.
Rich countries should provide financing for climate mitigation and adaptation to poorer countries, he added.
As nations are falling into bankruptcy, debt payments “are ballooning out of control.”
About 60 percent of low-income countries are at a high level of debt distress, according to Kamande.
“This is unsustainable if we are to end poverty and suffering,” and that is why these countries urgently need “debt cancellation and restructuring to free up resources that could be spent to help struggling citizens,” he said.
Kamande warned that failure to act could have “catastrophic consequences.”
If governments do not take immediate action, the world will continue to see a massive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, while poverty, hunger, and suffering will increase dramatically, he said.
As climate change takes a heavy toll, “our planet will face an existential threat” if no action is taken, he said, adding that the “fragile” democracies and politics will also be at risk of elite capture, while conflicts will be exacerbated as communities and groups fight each other to access scarce resources.
Corruption and theft of public resources “will be normalized,” and as a consequence, the world is likely to experience “more preventable deaths such as maternal deaths,” Kamande argued.
“Even the slightest shock will leave behind a toll of destruction.” (Anadolu)