Australia’s 47 billionaires have found the COVID-19 pandemic to be a windfall, Oxfam Australia announced on Monday.
Indeed, as many regular people struggled to make ends meet, the extremely rich doubled their collective wealth, to see it grow “to $255 billion at a rate of $2,376 per second”.
The independent nonprofit released a top ten Australian rich list on Monday, with mining magnate Gina Rinehart coming in at number one with $22.2 billion, while fellow fossil fuel baron Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest takes fourth place with $18.6 billion in his back pocket.
In a statement, Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain described the billionaires as having had a “terrific pandemic” with money pumped in to prop up the economy having found its way into their bank accounts, whilst this inequality “by choice” is failing the majority.
The local announcement coincided with the release of the Oxfam International report Inequality Kills, which highlights the same pattern across the globe and labels these gaping disparities “economic violence”, which sees structural policies causing direct harm to the poorest.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in September last year that there were close to four times more deaths attributed to COVID-19 for people living in the lowest socioeconomic group, compared with those among the highest socioeconomic population.
Morgain makes clear that it’s time for the Australian government to take this issue seriously and implements a new taxation system to see the ultrarich pay substantially more tax, which, at present, could be funnelled into creating global vaccine equality.
The Oxfam International study found that over the pandemic a new billionaire has been created every 26 hours, whilst the world’s 10 richest men have doubled their wealth. This occurred at the same time as 160 million people were pushed into poverty following the onset of COVID-19.
“These issues are all part of the same, deeper malaise,” the Oxfam report reads. “It is that inequality is tearing our societies apart. It is that violence is rigged into our economic systems. It is that inequality kills.”
According to Oxfam, wealth disparities have made the COVID pandemic deadlier, have drawn it out and made it more damaging to livelihoods. And these circumstances exist because of policies and political decisions favouring the rich to the detriment of the rest of humanity.
A stark example of this has been on display as the wealthiest nations continue to deny the Global South affordable vaccines, which leaves billions of people – including almost the entire continent of Africa – unvaccinated.
“Vaccine apartheid” is not only leading to deaths, but it’s also leaving the path open to the emergence of new variants, like Omicron.
Wealth disparities continue to follow the historical legacies of colonialism and slavery. So, a pandemic like COVID-19 is most destructive towards “the poorest people, women and girls, and racialised groups”.
Oxfam asserts that the cost of rising wealth inequalities is “human lives”. And the conservative estimate it puts forward is 21,300 deaths everyday across the planet caused by these disparities, which equates to the death of at least one person every four seconds.