Extreme inequality and poverty

The growing gap between rich and poor is undermining the fight against poverty.

The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Oxfam's report, The Inequality Virus,’ shows that rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000 mostly white and male billionaires to bounce back.

What's wrong

Our deeply unfair economic system is enabling the super-rich to amass huge fortunes but making it harder for billions of poor people to put food on the table or get treatment when they are sick. The economy is rigged against you if you’re poor, especially if you are a woman or a person of color.

COVID-19 has the potential to increase inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.

Making it right

Governments must ensure everyone has access to a COVID-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their income. They must build economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.

They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a quality education, health, and social care. And they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.

Featured publication

  1. Briefing paper

    The Inequality Virus

    The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to lead to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began. The virus has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities of wealth, gender and race. Close to two million people have died, and hundreds of millions of people are being forced into poverty while many of the richest – individuals and corporations – are thriving. Billionaire fortunes returned to their pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, while recovery for the world’s poorest people could take over a decade. The crisis has exposed our collective frailty and the inability of our deeply unequal economy to work for all. Yet it has also shown us the vital importance of government action to protect our health and livelihoods. Transformative policies that seemed unthinkable before the crisis have suddenly been shown to be possible. There can be no return to where we were before. Instead, citizens and governments must act on the urgency to create a more equal and sustainable world.

  2. Research

    Time to Care

    This report outlines how global inequality is shockingly entrenched and vast, with the number of billionaires having doubled in the last decade. The report also shows how our sexist economies are fueling the inequality crisis and enabling a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of ordinary people and particularly poor women and girls.

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  3. Briefing paper

    Public good or private wealth?

    Our economy is broken, with hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty while huge rewards go to those at the very top. The number of billionaires has doubled since the financial crisis and their fortunes grow by $2.5bn a day, yet the super-rich and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades. The human costs – children without teachers, clinics without medicines – are huge. Piecemeal private services punish poor people and privilege elites. Women suffer the most, and are left to fill the gaps in public services with many hours of unpaid care. We need to transform our economies to deliver universal health, education and other public services. To make this possible, the richest people and corporations should pay their fair share of tax. This will drive a dramatic reduction in the gap between rich and poor and between women and men.

  4. Research

    Reward Work, Not Wealth

    Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all. Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich are men. Governments must create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful.


Stories & updates

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