Half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by COVID-19: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Foreign aid, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 09 Apr 2020

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could push half a billion more people – or 8 per cent of the global population – into poverty unless urgent action is taken to support developing countries, Oxfam warned today.

The aid agency’s new report, ‘Dignity Not Destitution’, also reveals that in East Asia and the Pacific, 240 million more people could be forced below the poverty line.

The analysis, published today by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, was conducted by researchers at King’s College London and the Australian National University. It also found:

  • Over half the global population could be living in poverty in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • This could set back the fight against poverty by a decade, and as much as 30 years in some regions such as Africa and the Middle East.
  • Women are likely to be hardest hit financially, due to unpaid care work, and the fact they are more likely to be employed in poorly paid, precarious jobs that are most at risk. More than one million Bangladeshi garment workers – 80 per cent of whom are women – have already been laid off or sent home without pay after orders from western clothing brands were cancelled or suspended.

Oxfam Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the crisis was showing how deep and growing inequalities undermine our ability to face existential threats.

“This virus affects us all, even princes and prime ministers. But the equality ends there. By exploiting the extreme inequalities between rich and poor people, developed and developing nations and between women and men, unchecked this crisis will cause immense suffering,” Ms Morgain said.

“Yet it is also showing that we are able to mobilise collectively on a huge scale. It is revealing what truly matters is human lives. It is revealing the incredible power of solidarity and collective action, led by governments.”

Ms Morgain said while the Australian Government had already taken welcome measures to provide financial security to millions domestically, Oxfam was calling for support to be extended beyond our borders, where the needs would be much greater.

“We warmly acknowledge the huge steps taken by the Government as part of its economic stimulus packages – this includes doubling the unemployment benefit, a six-month wage subsidy for workers and sole traders and free childcare,” Ms Morgain said.

“But many governments across the globe simply don’t have the financial firepower to do the same for their own people. That’s why Australia needs to do its fair share to protect the most vulnerable across the globe.

“Now is the time to boost our aid budget, and to fully fund the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan. Australia’s contribution to this global crisis should amount to $84 million. This money will not only save lives, but will help prevent millions more people falling into poverty.

“We also urge the Australian Government to use its influence at the IMF, World Bank and G20 meetings next week to call for measures such as the immediate cancellation of US$1 trillion worth of developing country debt payments in 2020.”

For example, in our region, Tonga and Samoa have ‘high risk’ debt burdens that severely compromise their ability to spend on health and other essential services. Cancelling debt in Tonga would free up an additional US$54 a month for six months that could be paid as cash grants for each child, elderly and disabled person in the country.

Ms Morgain said that once the crisis had passed, communities and governments must ensure that we build back a better system – one that provides for all.

“We can rebuild a better world. A fairer world. A more sustainable world. One that radically reduces the gap between rich and poor. This means universal healthcare and universal social protection,” she said.

“Together we can learn the lessons from this unprecedented crisis, to build a more human economy and a fairer world.”

You can access the report here. For interviews, please contact Lily Partland on 0418 118 687 or lilyp@oxfam.org.au