France’s Covid policy enriches billionaires, sends millions into poverty: Oxfam

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France is third only to the United States and China in terms of how the wealth of billionaires has grown throughout the Covid pandemic, anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam said Monday as it warned of spiralling global inequality if governments did not change their economic policies.

In its annual report on global inequality, Oxfam reports that the world’s 10 wealthiest people, all of them men, saw their collective fortunes soar by half a trillion dollars since the Covid pandemic began, even though the world economy is smaller.

Based on data from Forbes’ 2020 Billionaire List, the list includes France’s wealthiest person, LVMH president Bernard Arnault, along with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla, investor Warren Buffet, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others.

Their combined gains would be enough to pay to vaccinate every person in the world and ensure no one is pushed into poverty, Oxfam says in its report “The Inequality Virus”, published to coincide with the annual World Economic Forum summit of leaders of businesses, governments and states.

Unless governments change their economic policies, the Covid pandemic will lead to the largest increase in inequality the world has ever seen, with world poverty levels on track to be higher in 2030 than they were in 2020, the group warns.

“Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic – shop assistants, healthcare workers and market vendors – are struggling to pay the bills,” Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said in a statement.

The pandemic has seen economic disruption that has hit the poor the hardest, with women and precarious workers facing the worst of job losses. The World Bank has warned more than 100 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty.

France no exception

The group emphasised the recovery and relief packages that governments set up during the pandemic played to the benefit of billionaires more than to those who most needed aid.

“The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover,” the group said.

France was no exception, with the country’s approximately 40 billionaires becoming richer as data suggested millions of their compatriots fell into poverty since the country took its first restrictive measures against the disease caused by the new coronavirus in March of last year.

“French billionaires gained almost 175 billion euros, an amount twice as large as France’s budget for public hospitals,” Quentin Parrinello, spokesperson for Oxfam France, told RFI.

“It’s the third largest gain after the United States and China, even as we face facing the most serious economic crisis in a hundred years.”

Oxfam said Bernard Arnault’s own fortune grew 41 percent in 2020. Forbes reported his net worth to be about 149 billion US dollars (about 123 billion euros) as of Monday.

Other data suggested millions of French people have fallen into poverty since the health crisis began.

“More than 8 million people are receiving food aid, which is extremely high. There were about 5.5 million who had food aid before the crisis,” Parrinello said.

“There are also studies showing the poorest 20 percent had to use their savings during the first lockdown, while the richest 10 percent put money aside. We have all the signs showing a strong increase in poverty in France.”

(with newswires)