It will soon be two years since the start of the pandemic. A pandemic that breaks into a world that was already very unequal, aggravating inequalities, raging against the most vulnerable and pushing 160 million more people to live in poverty.
Along the way, the lack of access to something as essential as the COVID-19 vaccine or basic health services has claimed the lives of millions of people. Many others have died of hunger or are in an extreme situation close to famine. Others have lost their jobs or seen their meager income plummet, living on the edge as they juggle survival. Women, girls, people of color and discriminated groups have borne the brunt.
In Spain, just during the first year of the pandemic, more than a million people found themselves in a situation of severe material deprivation, a figure that takes us back to the worst moment of the previous financial crisis. Here, the economic impact especially affects the youngest, who are the ones who have suffered the most from job loss as a result of the precariousness in which they find themselves installed.
At the opposite pole, the billionaires who, two years later, are still richer, much richer. As the report points out inequalities kill the wealth of the ten richest men on the planet has doubled, reaching the astronomical figure of 1.5 trillion dollars. And they accumulate six times more wealth than the 3.1 billion poorest people in the world combined. It hurts to write it. It’s just obscene. The image of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, flying 60 miles above the earth, perfectly sums up their complete disconnection from reality and limitless opulence and ostentation.
This health crisis is the epilogue of a dangerous path of deregulation and disinvestment in the public sphere that began after the financial crisis of 2008, which, year after year, has translated into higher levels of inequality throughout the world. Economic inequalities, but also social and political, which also destroy the feeling of fullness, dignity and worth of people.
It has been precisely the previous inaction of many governments in the face of inequality, which has caused us to now be more vulnerable to the impacts of this health, social and economic crisis. India, for example, hit by the second wave of COVID, has the fourth lowest health budget in the world and only half of the population has access to the most basic services. The low level of public investment in health systems, together with the weakness of social protection systems and the insufficient guarantee of workers’ rights, has left millions of people in a situation of vulnerability that is as brutal as it is unnecessary .
We have an obligation to work to make the world a better place. But we need governments to have the political courage to take the necessary measures, ensuring that the drastic reduction of inequalities and social cohesion are the backbones that mark social and economic policies in this phase of recovery, ensuring redistributive policies, but also acting on the structural causes and preventing the reproduction of inequalities.
They can start by taxing the super-rich and these huge profits amassed during COVID-19, benefiting directly from the positive impact that the infusion of capital from central banks and governments (to cushion the blow and save the economy) has had on stock markets. It’s simple and common sense. A money that must be invested to strengthen public systems and guarantee basic rights such as health, education, social protection or to fight against gender violence or mitigate the impact of climate change.
We have the opportunity to transform our model of society and shift towards one that protects the rights and needs of the vast majority, closes the huge inequality gaps and drastically reduces the use of natural resources.