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Oxfam inequality report a wake-up call to save lives

Upskilling the blue-collared workers could help, but the poor would not be able to do it on their own.

Published: Mon 25 Jan 2021, 11:20 PM

The goal of achieving an equal and sustainable world has been dealt a severe blow by the pandemic. While it was quite clear early last year that the coronavirus pandemic would impact the poor worse than the rich, the recent Oxfam International’s annual inequality report lays bare the ground realities and points at the extent of damage done to our global economy. We have lost almost a decade worth of progress made in terms of bridging the income inequality gap worldwide. The poor have been hit economically, socially, and physically across the spectrum, with up to 150 million more people expected to be pushed into extreme poverty by 2022 as per the estimates of the World Bank.

The post-pandemic world could arguably experience even greater inequalities owing to the risks and changes forced upon various processes and industries due to the Sars-Cov-2 infections. Virtual conferences, calls, meetings, lockdowns, restricted movements have taken a toll on aviation. Lower tourism revenue, lower remittance, collapsing exports would take time to recover. Automation could speed up, leaving unskilled workers jobless and affecting demand for labour in several industries. What will happen to this population if it is not supported? The pandemic-induced joblessness has already hit the informal sector the hardest. It’s a sector that employs around two billion people globally and lacks the basic safety net. There’s no fallback for people who survive on daily wages, whose children afford one square meal a day only when sent to government-sponsored schools that provide food as an incentive to kids to come. In our world of contrasts, the world’s top 1,000 billionaires have already recouped their fortunes while the rest of the world’s population is struggling to adjust to their new realities.

Upskilling the blue-collared workers could help, but the poor would not be able to do it on their own. Insufficient financial resources at hand could translate into a life of penury for workers and their families. Children in such households risk losing their future to poverty. The governments can help by stepping up efforts to upskill the labour force in tandem with the changing job market. Providing the poor with basic provisions that cover their health and educational needs should also be a priority for governments in the developing countries. Central banks of the rich countries have announced massive stimulus packages, but the poor countries need support. Perhaps, the G20 could help. The concept of basic income should also be discussed and implemented. It is not just the health aspect of the pandemic that needs concerted efforts, but other avenues too.

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