It has been known ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and upended the lives of everyone that its impact on social, economic and other aspects of people’s lives would be unequal. Though it is true that the virus does not distinguish between the rich and the poor, the poor have to pay a higher price than the rich, and when the profits and losses are tallied, it is clear that the rich have gained. This has been the case with all pandemics and other disasters, too. In the case of Covid-19, some figures are available now that show how the rich have gained and the poor have lost through the course of the pandemic all over the world, including India. A report released by Oxfarm, prepared on the basis of interactions with 295 economists from 79 countries, makes some telling revelations about this.
The report says that India’s 100 top billionaires increased their wealth by nearly Rs 13 lakh crore during the pandemic, which is enough to give Rs 1 lakh to each of 130 million of India’s poorest. About 75% of the 122 million who lost their jobs are in the informal sector, which is home to the weakest and poorest among workers. The report estimates that an unskilled worker in India would take three years to earn what the country’s richest person earned in one second last year. The situation is much the same the world over. The richest 1,000 people worldwide have already recovered their losses due to the pandemic while the poorest will take at least 10 years to do so, if ever. The increase in wealth of the 10 richest persons during the pandemic is enough to stop the world from falling into poverty and to pay for the whole world population’s vaccination.
The unequal impact of the pandemic has also been seen in other sectors like education, healthcare, access to public facilities and social life. Everything in the world of the poorest people and families has shrunk, and the biggest challenge for the world is to lift them up to the pre-pandemic levels at the earliest, and to reduce the inequalities. Growing inequalities will fuel greater strife and unrest, with severe consequences. The economic policies to be adopted by governments will have to focus on reducing disparities and on better and fairer distribution of wealth and income. Imperatives like sustainable development, environmental well-being and social security will have to receive greater attention from policymakers and administrators. Measures like the imposition of a special tax on the super-rich have been proposed, but the solutions to the problem will also have to go beyond fiscal and financial measures. The Union Budget will hopefully make a beginning in that respect.