The Inequality Virus: Billionaires' wealth grows by $3.9trln during COVID-19

10 richest people’s wealth increases by $540bln, enough to pay for COVID-19 vaccine for everyone

Image used for illustrative purpose. In this Photo Illustration, Twenty and five dollar bills are displayed on August 29, 2017 in San Anselmo, California.

Image used for illustrative purpose. In this Photo Illustration, Twenty and five dollar bills are displayed on August 29, 2017 in San Anselmo, California.

Getty Images

The wealth of world’s billionaires increased by a staggering $3.9 trillion (Dh14.3 trillion) during the peak of Covid-19 between March 18 and December 31, 2020, says a new report.

According to a “The Inequality Virus” study by Oxfam, the increase took billionaire’s total wealth to $11.95 trillion by the end of 2020, which is equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic.

The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540 billion between March 18 to December 31, 2020, which is more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for everyone.

In the first months of the pandemic, a stock market collapse saw billionaires, who are some of the biggest stockholders, experience dramatic reductions in their wealth. But this setback was short-lived. Within nine months, the top 1,000 billionaires had recovered all the wealth they had lost.

With unprecedented support from governments for their economies, the stock market has been booming, driving up billionaire wealth, even while the real economy faces the deepest recession in a century. In contrast, after the financial crisis in 2008, it took five years for billionaire wealth to return to its pre-crisis highs.

“We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.

“History will remember hundreds of millions being pushed into destitution and poverty. History will also likely remember the pandemic as the first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time,” it added.

The World Bank estimated that if countries act now to reduce inequality then poverty could return to pre-crisis levels in just three years, rather than in over a decade.

Between March and August 2020, billionaires in the Middle East and North Africa increased their wealth by 20 per cent, more than double the International Monetary Fund emergency financing to the region during that same period, and almost five times the value of the United Nations’ Covid-19 humanitarian appeal for the region.

While the world’s billionaires keep getting richer, people living in poverty will become even poorer as a result of the coronavirus.

Recent estimates showed that the number of people living on less than $5.50 a day could have increased by between more than 200 million to half a billion in 2020. According to Development Initiatives, the poorest people in almost every country have seen their income fall due to the pandemic.


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