Governments need to take urgent action to combat inequality -Oxfam

LONDON (Reuters) – Governments need to take urgent action to tackle rising inequality which emerged over the COVID-19 crisis with a surge in energy and food prices ramping up pressures on millions of people around the world, Oxfam said on Monday.

The report, released by the Nairobi-based charity as top policy makers and industry chiefs arrive in the Swiss town of Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), found the number of billionaires had risen by 573 to just under 2,700 from 2020.

Their cumulative wealth had risen by nearly $3.8 trillion to $12.7 trillion, the charity found, analysing data from Forbes. Those in the food and energy sector enjoyed a windfall in revenues from soaring commodity prices.

Meanwhile, the combination of COVID-19, rising inequality, and rising food prices could push as many as 263 million people into extreme poverty in 2022, Oxfam said, adding this reversed decades of progress.

“Millions of people around the world are facing a cost-of-living crisis due to the continuing effects of the pandemic and the rapidly rising costs of essentials, including food and energy,” the authors of the report said.

“Inequality, already extreme before COVID-19, has reached new levels.”

Food prices, which have already been pushing higher during the pandemic due to COVID-19 disruptions and weather woes, took another jump higher when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled supplies of grains and oils.

The World Bank defines the extreme poor as those living on less than $1.90 a day.

“The single most urgent and structural action that governments must take now is to implement highly progressive taxation measures that in turn must be used to invest in powerful and proven measures that reduce inequality, such as universal social protection and universal healthcare,” the report said.

Geneva-based WEF says the meeting, which is happening for the first time in over two years due to COVID-19, will bring together more than 2,000 leaders and experts from around the world, somewhat smaller than some past meetings.

(Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Chris Reese)