Recently, the Inequality Virus Report, released by Oxfam International, has found that the Covid pandemic deeply increased the existing inequalities in India and around the world.

  • The report states that Covid has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once – the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.

Key Points

  • Impact of the Pandemic on Rich vis-a-vis Poor:
    • India introduced one of the earliest and most stringent lockdowns in the face of the pandemic and its enforcement brought the economy to a standstill, triggering unemploymenthunger, distress migration and untold hardship in its wake.
    • The rich were able to escape the pandemic’s worst impact; and while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, a majority of the not-so-fortunate Indians lost their livelihood.
    • The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and by 90% since 2009 to USD 422.9 billion, ranking India sixth in the world after the USA, China, Germany, Russia and France.
  • Impact on Informal Sector:
    • India’s large informal workforce was the worst hit as it made up 75% of the 122 million jobs lost.
    • Informal workers had relatively fewer opportunities to work from home and suffered more job loss compared to the formal sector.
    • The 40-50 million seasonal migrant workers, typically engaged working in construction sites, factories etc. were particularly distressed.
  • Impact on Education:
    • Over the past year as education shifted online, India saw the digital divide worsening inequalities.
    • On the one hand, private providers experienced exponential growth yet, on the other, just 3% of the poorest 20% of Indian households had access to a computer and just 9% had access to the internet.
    • It noted that the long disruption of schooling risked doubling the rate of out of school, especially among the poor.
  • Health Inequalities:
    • Oxfam found that since India does not report case data desegregated by socio-economic or social categories, it is difficult to gauge the distribution of the disease amongst various communities.
    • India currently has the world’s second-largest cumulative number of Covid-19 positive cases and globally, the poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities have higher rates of Covid-19 prevalence.
    • The spread of disease was swift among poor communities, often living in cramped areas with poor sanitation and using shared common facilities such as toilets and water points.
  • Sanitation Facility:

    • Only 6% of the poorest 20% households had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93% of the top 20% households in India.
    • In terms of caste, just 37.2% of Scheduled Castes (SCs) households and 25.9% of Scheduled Tribes (STs) households had access to non-shared sanitation facilities, compared to 65.7% for the general population.
  • Gender Disparities:
    • Employment:
      • The unemployment rate among women rose from already high 15% before Covid to 18%.
      • This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about 8% or USD 218 billion.
      • Of the women who retained their jobs, as many 83% were subjected to a cut in income according to a survey by the Institute of Social Studies Trust.
    • Health:
      • Beyond income and job losses, poorer women also suffered healthwise because of the disruption in regular health services and Anganwadi centres.
      • It is predicted that the closure of family planning services will result in 2.95 million unintended pregnancies, 1.80 million abortions (including 1.04 million unsafe abortions) and 2,165 maternal deaths.
    • Domestic Violence:
      • The pandemic also fueled domestic violence against women. As of November 2020, cases of domestic violence rose by almost 60% over the past 12 months.

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