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The real pandemic

The Covid-19 recession is the greatest economic crisis the world has experienced in decades. It has dealt a huge blow on businesses and family finances, bringing the global economy to its knees with long-term devastating effects.

 

Olusegun Akinfenwa*

 

However, just like previous pandemics, it has also widened the global inequality gap disproportionately.

Surveys from across the world show that th  e world’s poorest are bearing the greatest burdens of the pandemic’s health and financial impacts.

Health-wise, the poor are significantly more affected than the rich.

Findings at the early stage of the outbreak showed that the virus killed twice as many people in Britain’s poor regions as rich ones.

For instance, in England between March and April 2020, the poorest communities recorded 55.1 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with the wealthiest communities with 25.3 deaths per 100,000.

In the same vein, the most disadvantaged areas in Wales suffered 44.6 deaths per 100,000 population, which almost doubled the cases in the least disadvantaged areas with 23.2 deaths per 100,000.

In the United States, the pandemic has further exposed the country’s long-existing racial and income inequality, as far greater coronavirus fatality was recorded in predominantly non-white counties.

The Covid-19 death rate in some of these areas was more than nine times higher than in counties with the substantially white population.

The infection rate was also nearly eight times higher in counties with predominantly people of colour.

The most affected races include Black and Latinx people. “If fatality rates were equal across racial groups, 24,000 Black and Latinx people who died from the virus would still be alive today,” a report by Oxfam shows.

Coronavirus  is one of the health crises with the most demining global financial impacts in recent memory. It has thrown the whole world into an economic downturn that will long outlive its health tolls.

Unfortunately, just like its health impacts, these financial challenges are also more telling on the poor than the rich. As a matter of fact, as the world’s poorest were plunged deeper down the poverty line, the world’s richest have gotten richer.

While people of all status have experienced the financial tolls one way or the other, somehow the rich have managed to recoup their loss and even grow their wealth.

According to a report tagged The inequality virus, the world’s 1,000 richest people recouped their Covid-19 losses within just 9 months. In contrast, however, it could take more than 10 years for the world’s poorest to recover from the financial effects of the pandemic.

In the US, within a few months into the crisis, more than 40 million people had filed for unemployment, just as many businesses closed down. In addition, 1 in 10 Americans were reported to have less than $400 in their bank accounts to cover unexpected expenses.

Over the same period, the country’s billionaires had their wealth increased by half a trillion dollars.

This is not the first crisis that has disproportionately widened the inequality gap between the world’s richest and the general population.

In 2009, while most people were still suffering the economic downturn of the 08-09 Global Recession, the world’s high-net-worth individuals grew their global share of wealth by 19% to $39 trillion. They were able to recoup nearly all their losses within a year while the rest of the world suffered the financial effects for several years. Between 2009 and 2012, the world’s wealthiest captured 95% of the income gains.

Besides the world’s top 1%, the Covid-19 economic disparities could also be noticed among the general population.

Some of these are inherent in the types of profession and education gaps. Even before the pandemic, the world’s poorest have always worked in the most disadvantaged and least paying sectors and have been more educationally disadvantaged than the rich.

The pandemic has now widened these age-long barriers. In the UK and some EU countries, many workers with lower than secondary school education loss their jobs. Contrastingly, however, there was an increase in jobs for employees with university degrees.

In addition, while most workers with university degrees were able to work remotely during lockdowns, most of the educationally disadvantaged people were unable to.

This is because the majority of them work in the most affected industries, such as travel, entertainment, and restaurants, and lack the opportunity or ability to telework.

From all indications, the pandemic’s effects are much more telling on the world’s most vulnerable people, especially children from poor homes. Compared with their peers from wealthy homes, financially disadvantaged children have suffered more learning loss and are more likely to experience severe hunger.

In England, for instance, a whopping 46% learning gap was reported between pupils from some most disadvantaged communities and their peers from wealthier homes.

Financially, the crisis has exposed more children to unprecedented food insecurity globally. Findings show that 5.5% of household with children in the UK cannot afford a meal with meat, fish, or a vegetarian equivalent every second day.

This poses a nutritional challenge to many children who had lost access to free meals due to school closure.

The impact is much more severe on sub-Saharan African children, as the academic disruption has increased the region’s out of school children by 100 million. Many of them, especially those from conflict-torn areas, also grapple with acute malnutrition.

Covid-19 health and financial crises have further highlighted the age-long global inequality among people of different status.

Concerted efforts must be made towards bridging the widening disparities.

Health-wise, world leaders should ensure coronavirus vaccines are made available and accessible to all at no cost.

To mitigate the economic hardships, there should be adequate financial relief package for everyone who has lost their income to the pandemic.

Also, bridging the education gap between the poor and the rich will help more people become financially independent and reduce the disparity.

*Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for ImmiNews.

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