• The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

Women bear $800bn brunt of Covid-related job losses

Few people have avoided the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as is often the case in humanitarian crises, it is women who have paid the highest price.

Last year, Covid-19 cost women at least $800 billion – the combined GDP of 98 countries – in lost income. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs, a five percent loss compared to 3.9 percent for men.

But while women were losing money, companies like Amazon were thriving. The company gained $700 billion on the markets in 2020, while women’s $800 billion losses also top the $721.5 billion that the US government spent on the world’s largest defence budget.

Around the world, women are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors such as retail, tourism and food services – industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Most women across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America work in informal employment. They also make up roughly 70 percent of the world’s health and social care workforce – essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from Covid-19.  

Across the globe, women have been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, predominantly due to care responsibilities. Even before the virus struck, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, contributing at least $10.8 trillion a year – more than three times the size of the global tech industry – to the global economy.

“Economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs.” said Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland.

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy – domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers – who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut.”

Shahida Akter Lucky (25), an unemployed domestic worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh, holds her baby son as she queues for a food parcel from Oxfam. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Although some governments have taken positive measures to address women’s economic and social security the response remains grossly insufficient. Only 11 countries have introduced shorter or flexible work arrangements for workers with care responsibilities, while 36 have strengthened family and paid sick leave for parents and caregivers.

“Even before the virus struck, the responsibility for caring in Ireland was deeply gendered and severely unbalanced. Last year, Oxfam Ireland estimated that women’s unpaid care work contributes at least €24 billion to the Irish economy every year – the equivalent of 12.3 percent of the entire annual economy,” added Mr Clarken.

For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, the demands of unpaid care work have rapidly increased. As care needs spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms.

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty in 2021. According to the World Economic Forum, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

“As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, our government must seize this opportunity to build a more equal, inclusive economy for everyone living in Ireland. Our Citizens’ Assembly has laid out what needs to be done for gender equality – offering concrete actions across politics and leadership, caregiving and childcare, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, pay and the workplace, social protection, as well reforming the Constitution,” Mr Clarken explained.

“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work, as recovery from Covid-19 is impossible without women recovering.”

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Big Pharma rewards shareholders with $26 billion amid vaccine apartheid

22 April 2021

As of today, there have been more than 144.5 million cases of Covid-19 recorded worldwide. By tomorrow, that number will have risen again.

But the pandemic has led to other figures increasing too, namely the bank balance of Big Pharma’s top executives and shareholders.

Over the past 12 months, the People’s Vaccine Alliance calculates that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders – enough to pay to vaccinate at least 1.3bn people. To help you visualise that number – that equates to the entire population of Africa.

While the global economy remains frozen due to the slow and uneven vaccine rollout, the soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires. The founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is now worth $5.9. billion and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel $5.2 billion.

According to regulatory filings, Bancel has cashed out more than $142 million in Moderna stock since the pandemic began. Many other investors have also become billionaires in the last few months, while the International Chamber of Commerce projects a worst-case GDP loss of $9 trillion due to global vaccine inequity.

Protests are expected outside shareholders meetings today in the UK and US as investors inside present resolutions to expand vaccine access. There is a growing backlash against the de facto privatisation of successful Covid-19 vaccines and pressure on the pharmaceutical companies to share the technology and know-how with qualified vaccine producers across the world.

“This is a public health emergency, not a private profit opportunity,” said Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. “We should not be letting corporations decide who lives and who dies while boosting their profits. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.

Vaccine apartheid is not a natural phenomenon but the result of governments stepping back and allowing corporations to call the shots. Instead of creating new vaccine billionaires we need to be vaccinating billions in developing countries. It is appalling that Big Pharma is making huge pay-outs to wealthy shareholders in the face of this global health emergency.

While one in four citizens of rich nations have had a vaccine, just one in 500 people in poorer countries have done so, meaning the death toll continues to climb as the virus remains out of control. Epidemiologists are predicting we have less than a year before mutations could render the current vaccines ineffective.

One of the reasons Pharma companies have been able to generate such large profits is because of intellectual property rules that restrict production to a handful of companies.

Last week, 175 former heads of state and Nobel Prize winners, including former president Mary Robinson, Francois Hollande and Joseph Stiglitz wrote to US President Joe Biden to support the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to enable the rapid scale-up of vaccine production across the world.

They join the 1.5 million people in the US and other nations who have signalled their support for a People’s Vaccine.

More than 100 low- and middle-income nations, led by India and South Africa, are calling at the World Trade Organisation for a waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 products during the pandemic, a move so far opposed by the US, EU and other rich nations. The Biden administration is reportedly considering dropping US opposition to the waiver, with a US Trade representative saying at the WTO that “the market once again has failed in meeting the health needs of developing countries”.

The next TRIPS waiver meeting at the WHO is on Friday, 30 April. If you believe in vaccine equality, and that no person should be left behind, you can take action today.

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People's Vaccine Alliance survey shows urgency of vaccinating all countries

Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

An epidemiologist is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases. In “normal” times, you don’t hear much about them, and they rarely make the news.

But these aren’t exactly normal times, are they?

Epidemiologists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions have recently made the headlines, delivering a stark warning about the risk the world is taking by failing to ensure all countries have sufficient vaccines to protect people from Covid-19.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of over 50 organisations including Oxfam, African Alliance and UNAIDS, surveyed 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries in March. The overwhelming majority – 88 percent – agreed that persistent low Covid-19 vaccine coverage in many countries would increase the risk of vaccine-resistant mutations.

Two-thirds of those surveyed think we have a year or less before Covid-19 mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective, and new or modified vaccines will be required.

And almost three-quarters of epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists from institutions including Johns Hopkins, Yale, Imperial College, Columbia University, Cambridge University, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cape Town said that open sharing of technology and intellectual property could increase global vaccine supplies.

The findings support and show once again the urgency of the People's Vaccine Alliance call to lift pharmaceutical monopolies to allow for the sharing of Covid technology to urgently boost vaccine supplies globally.

So what are the experts saying?

The more the virus circulates, the more likely it is that mutations and variants will emerge, which could make our current vaccines ineffective. At the same time, poor countries are being left behind without vaccines and basic medical supplies like oxygen. 

“As we've learned, viruses don't care about borders. We have to vaccinate as many people as possible, everywhere in the world, as quickly as possible. Why wait and watch instead of getting ahead of this?

Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh

With millions of people around the world infected with this virus, new mutations arise every day. Sometimes they find a niche that makes them more fit than their predecessors. These lucky variants could transmit more efficiently and potentially evade immune responses to previous strains. Unless we vaccinate the world, we leave the playing field open to more and more mutations, which could churn out variants that could evade our current vaccines and require booster shots to deal with them.

We all have a self-interest in ensuring that everyone around the world, no matter where they live have access to Covid-19 vaccines. The virus doesn’t respect borders and new variants somewhere on the planet mean none of us are safe.

Gregg Gonsalves, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University

As nations start to expand their vaccination programmes we are once again reminded about our interdependence. High coverage rates and herd immunity in one country or region of the world while others, particularly low- and middle-income countries, continue to wait in line will create the perfect environment for the virus to continue to mutate and negate the benefits of any vaccine protection.

In contrast, there are enormous benefits for everyone to have more equitable access to available doses of vaccines and achieve herd immunity globally sooner. As scientists, advocates, and decision-makers we must ensure that as many people are vaccinated all over the world and as soon as possible so that we can all focus our efforts in rebuilding our communities, livelihoods, and economies and know that we are all safe from Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professor in Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University

Heba Shalan, a mother and nurse from the Jabalia Refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is putting her life on the line caring for patients with Covid-19. Photo: Marwas Sawaf / OXFAM

The survey shows that it is imperative for the safety of all citizens in all countries that people everywhere are vaccinated as soon as possible; our failure to tackle global vaccine inequality heightens the risk of further mutations. 

Despite this imperative, wealthy countries’ continued defence of the monopolies of pharmaceutical giants means that global supplies are being artificially rationed, with a handful of companies deciding who lives and who dies.

In March, wealthy countries – including Ireland – blocked a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. The People’s Vaccine Alliance urges them to reconsider when talks resume at the World Trade Organisation this month.

The Alliance is also calling for all pharmaceutical corporations working on Covid-19 vaccines to openly share their technology and intellectual property through the World Health Organisation Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, in order to speed up and ramp up the production and rollout of vaccines to all countries. 

If we were in a war with a country called Covid, would governments leave vital decisions on production, supply and price in the hands of arms-producing companies?  

Given vaccines are our most crucial weapon in the fight against Covid-19, world leaders must take control to enable the World Health Organisation’s Covid Technology Access Pool to facilitate sharing of technology and intellectual property so that all capable companies can maximise global vaccine production.

Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni, Senior Health Policy Advisor to The People’s Vaccine Alliance

The survey was carried out between 17 February and 25 March 2021.

The respondents were from the following 28 countries:  Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, India, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Norway, Philippines, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, UAE, Uganda, UK, USA, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Almost two-thirds of people in Ireland say Covid-19 vaccine control should end to accelerate supply

Wednesday 10 March 2021

This time last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Now a new survey by Oxfam Ireland reveals that more than six out of 10 people (62%) in Ireland say that the Government should ensure that pharmaceutical companies who develop Covid-19 vaccines should not retain monopoly control.

Instead, they want the Government to ensure that companies share vaccine science and technology with other approved companies worldwide. Our research found that just 18 percent of those polled supported the Government’s current approach of protecting pharmaceutical companies’ vaccine monopoly. 

The findings of our survey come as more than 100 developing nations – led by South Africa and India – make the case at the World Trade Organisation for a waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). This will take place today and tomorrow.

This waiver would override the monopolies held by pharmaceutical firms and enable the urgent scale-up in production of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to ensure all countries get access to the doses they need. The EU continues to block this proposal – a move currently supported by Ireland.  

Our polling also highlights that two-thirds of those surveyed believe Covid-19 will remain a risk to personal health, while 76 percent think it will remain a threat to the Irish economy if the virus continues to spread elsewhere in the world. Almost three out of five (56%) of those surveyed believe it will be faster to vaccinate everyone if science and technologies are shared. We also found that:

Responding to the findings, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “There is clear support among the Irish public for equitable vaccine supply, as well as evident concern about the continued and prolonged impact this virus will have if it continues to spread beyond Ireland.  

People in developing countries need access to vaccines to protect lives and reduce the associated risks the virus poses, just as people in Ireland do. Without united global action, the Covid-19 health crisis, and resulting economic fallout and disruption will continue to have grave effects here in Ireland and worldwide.

The current limits to global vaccine supplies could result in some countries having to wait until at least 2023 for mass immunisation. While countries in the WHO’s COVAX facility will see the arrival of doses in the coming days, the amounts available mean only three percent of their populations can hope to be vaccinated by mid-year. At best, just one fifth will be vaccinated by the end of this year.   

All the leading vaccine developers have benefitted from billions of dollars in public subsidies, yet they have been handed the monopoly rights to produce and profit from them – already generating billions in revenue.  

At the same time, qualified vaccine producers all over the world are on standby, ready to produce more vaccines if they are given access to the technology and know-how. New capacity could be brought on stream within months.  

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10 brilliant questions you asked about our inequality report

Oxfam’s new report, The Inequality Virus, reveals that the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has increased by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began – more than enough to pay for a vaccine for all, and prevent anyone from falling into poverty because of the virus. We have received lots of great questions about the report – here are our answers to the 10 most frequently asked questions.

How can you be sure that Covid-19 will lead to a huge surge in inequality across the globe?

The IMF, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have all raised concerns that we will see a Covid-fuelled spike in inequality worldwide. 

These fears were echoed by a global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, where 87 percent of respondents said they expected an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic.

It is also echoed by what is happening on the ground in rich and poor countries alike. The richest in society have seen their savings increase during lockdown, but the poorest have seen their incomes fall and often had to borrow to survive. 

While it will be some time before we have the data needed to produce a concrete measure of inequality, everything points to an increase in inequality in every country for the first time since records began.

What is the link between wealth, inequality and poverty?

Our deeply unfair economies are enriching an already-wealthy minority at the expense of millions of poor people. Over the last 40 years, the richest one percent of the global population has captured more of the proceeds of economic growth than the poorest half of humanity combined. This inequality fuels poverty.

If the proceeds of economic activity had been shared more evenly, if governments invested in healthcare and education rather than slashing the tax bills of wealthy individuals and corporations, if companies prioritised a living wage for workers over bumper payouts for shareholders, if access to medicines and vaccines was prioritised over the intellectual property rights and profits of big pharma, then poverty could have been eliminated many years ago.

Why did billionaires’ wealth rebound so quickly?

Stock markets suffered the worst shock in their history when the pandemic was announced, destroying billions of dollars’ worth of financial assets. Central banks such as the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank injected billions of dollars to prevent a crash, the markets quickly rallied, and with them the fortunes of the world’s richest people who hold much of their wealth in stocks and shares. As a result, billionaires recouped their Covid-19 losses in just nine months while it could take the world’s poorest people more than a decade to recover. 

Why is Oxfam criticising billionaires and corporations for being successful and making a profit?

Making money is not the problem but excessive profits and extreme wealth are. These are the symptoms of a broken economic system which is benefiting a minority of people at the expense of everyone else.

Take the pharmaceutical industry. The US government invested $1 billion of US taxpayers’ money in Moderna to support the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Despite the fact that the company only has the capacity to supply vaccines for less than seven percent of the global population by the end of the year, it is refusing to share technology and knowhow that would enable other manufacturers to produce it. Moderna has also pre-sold all the vaccines it will produce this year to rich nations for a high price, leaving nothing for developing countries. This has made the owners of Moderna very rich indeed. This is exactly the kind of economic failure that drives extreme inequality.

Why is Oxfam criticising wealthy people such as Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, who have made multimillion-dollar donations to fund vaccine research, support hospitals and help those suffering during the Covid-19 crisis?

People who use their money to help others should be congratulated. However, charitable giving is no substitute for wealthy people and companies paying their fair share of tax, and it does not justify them using their power and connections to lobby for unfair advantages over others.

For example, US corporate philanthropy amounts to less than $20 billion a year but corporate tax dodging cost the US an estimated $135 billion in 2017.

Why is the pandemic hurting poorer people more than wealthy people?

In every country in the world, the poorest people in society have been hardest hit by the pandemic – especially women and people from marginalised racial and ethnic groups.

These people are more likely to work in sectors such as retail and tourism that have suffered big job losses as a result of the pandemic. These jobs are also largely in the informal sector, so they are less likely to have redundancy, savings or unemployment benefit to fall back on if they get laid off.

These people are less likely to have access to decent healthcare when they are ill. They are more likely to live in crowded accommodation or work as cleaners, shop assistants and care workers. This puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus, and they are more likely to suffer underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of dying from it. 

These are people like Jean Baptiste, a 44-year-old father of three and migrant worker at a meat processing plant in the US. The failure of the industry to implement proper safety measures has led to a series of Covid-19 outbreaks. When Jean became ill, he was told to continue working and hide his fever. When he died, the company failed to inform his family or his co-workers.  After his widow shared her story with the media, she received a card and just $100 in cash. Today she is struggling to support her children alone.  

Which governments are handling the pandemic well and which are handling it badly?

Governments’ catastrophic failure to tackle inequality means most countries were woefully ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic.

Millions of people have died or been pushed into hunger and poverty because of decades of failure to invest in public healthcare, protect workers’ rights or provide adequate financial support for people who can’t work. And while Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for some governments, others are still failing to act with disastrous consequences.

For example, the Kenyan government has responded to the crisis with tax cuts for the wealthiest and big business, but has provided little additional funding for public health or to help people who have lost their income as a result of the crisis. By comparison, Argentina has introduced a temporary solidarity wealth tax that could generate over $3 billion to pay for its Covid-19 response, including medical supplies and relief for small businesses and people living in poverty.

How can governments afford to implement all the measures Oxfam is calling for in the middle of an unprecedented global recession?

Governments will need to invest to get economies up and running, so the question is where should these investments be made? Oxfam is calling on governments to prioritise investments in areas that will deliver dignified, sustainable jobs, and not waste billions bailing out wealthy companies unless conditions are attached such as a requirement for the company to pay its fair share of tax or cut carbon pollution.

Building back fairer, greener economies will bring huge benefits for people and the planet. A study by Climate Action Network International found that investing in renewables in the US generates almost three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels. Yet, as of November 2020, G20 nations had pledged $251 billion of Covid-19 recovery funds to fossil fuel companies. 

Why is Oxfam calling for tax hikes at a time when tax cuts are needed to stimulate economic growth and job creation?

The idea that low taxes for the rich are good for economic growth and job creation is outdated. Gita Gopinath, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, recently came out in favour of one-off solidarity taxes on wealth and high incomes to help pay for the recovery, called on governments to introduce fairer tax systems and warned against a return to austerity in the wake of the pandemic.

A strong economy depends on an educated and healthy workforce, good transport connections, a strong communications network and the rule of law. All these things are paid for with our taxes – that’s why it is essential that everyone in society pay their fair share.

Does Oxfam want to abolish billionaires?

Oxfam believes billionaires are a sign of broken economic system and that extreme wealth should be ended. We believe that the world would be a better place if there were a lot fewer billionaires and a lot more nurses.  

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