The world’s ten richest billionaires have made enough money during the pandemic to vaccinate every person on Earth against Covid-19.
A shocking report released on Monday by Oxfam found that the top 1,000 billionaires on the planet collectively lost about 30 per cent of their wealth when coronavirus restrictions first hit last March. By the end of November, they had made it all back.
In the last three quarters of 2020, the research found, the ten richest people on the planet – including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk – added £394 billion to their net worth.
Using World Health Organisation data, Oxfam calculated that it would cost £103 billion to vaccinate the world’s 7.8 billion against the virus – around £6.50 per jab.
And if they were to hand over £53 billion of their post-virus windfall, they could keep millions above the poverty line for the next 12 months.
“While a wealthy minority have amassed vast fortunes before and during the pandemic, the majority of the world’s population have been struggling to survive on poverty wages and without access to decent health care or education,” Paul O’Brien, vice president of Oxfam America, told HuffPost.
“Today’s levels of extreme wealth concentration are not sustainable. Billionaires are a sign of economic sickness, not health. They are the symptom of a broken economy.”
Towards the end of 2020, it emerged that Bezos could hand a $105,000 bonus to every single Amazon worker and still be as rich as he was at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, TLE revealed that the world’s ten richest men added more than $132 billion to their combined net worth in 2020, despite the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on the global economy.
The unemployment rate in the US – which has over 600 billionaires, more than any other country – reached 16 per cent in May, with nine million Americans out of work in the country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
In the UK, despite initial hopes that the economy would witness a ‘V-shaped’ recovery, some forecasters estimate that it will not return to its pre-crisis size until 2024 at the earliest.
Rebecca Gowland, Oxfam Head of Inequality Campaign and Policy said: “The fact that the world’s richest billionaires are massively increasing their wealth at a time when millions are facing hardship, is evidence of a broken economy.
“It is unconscionable that a handful of super-rich men are stockpiling wealth while millions of people around the world are losing their jobs, struggling to put food on the table and are living in fear of destitution.”
The situation is especially stark in countries where inequality is most pronounced. The richest person in India, Mukesh Ambani – the world’s fifth richest man – has become $18.8bn richer this year.
Ambani – who control’s 42 per cent of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries, owner of the world’s biggest oil refining complex – is comfortably the wealthiest person in India, which has recorded more than 1.4 million confirmed coronavirus infections and over 32,000 deaths.
According to Oxfam, the top 10 per cent of the Indian population holds 77 per cent of the total national wealth, and 73 per cent of the wealth generated in the country in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent. Meanwhile 67 million Indians comprising the poorest half of the population enjoyed an increase of just 1 per cent in their wealth the same year.
Forecasters predict that India’s gross domestic product could contract by as much as 9.5 per cent by the end of the year. Lay-offs in the country are increasing quickly, and will probably accelerate at the end of August, when a bank moratorium on debt repayments expires.
“Extreme inequality was already trapping millions of people around the world in poverty and now half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty due to the pandemic,” Gowland said.
Related: Ten billionaires have got $400 billion richer during the pandemic