Battling inequality in the face of COVID-19 in Africa-Oxfam Report

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In this Thursday, March 26, 2020 file photo, a boy wears a mask as a preventative measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, as he navigates a flood of water mixed with garbage following heavy rains, in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya. Up to 150 million people could slip into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day, by late next year depending on how badly economies shrink during the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank said Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 in an outlook grimmer than before. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

The coronavirus pandemic has swept across a world that was already profoundly unequal. In-country after country it has magnified and increased these inequalities. The poorest people are least able to isolate, to protect themselves.

They are more likely to have pre-existing poor health, making them more likely to die. Economically, it is ordinary people who are losing their jobs in their tens of millions, facing huge levels of hunger and hardship.

FILE PHOTO: Somali women wait to collect water at the New Kabasa internally displaced camp in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 25, 2018. /AP

Sub-Saharan Africa has only one country, South Africa in the top 50 in commitment index and the region accounts for three in five of the countries at the bottom.

South Africa leads in the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) index in Africa (position 18 globally) and is at top of the 2020 CRI Index tax pillar globally.

But despite the country’s commitment to reducing inequality, it is still one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The CRI Index includes as a negative indicator of the degree to which a country adopts and implements harmful tax practices (HTPs), attracting corporate profits from other countries and eroding their tax bases and their ability to fight inequality.

Kenya responded to the pandemic with tax cuts for rich individuals and corporates and minimal social protection and health measures.

The country had, however, posted a good CRI score before COVID-19(the sixth-highest in Africa).  Nigeria accounts for one in five out-of-school children globally. The country ranks very lowly in tax collection.

Ethiopia stands out for spending the second-highest proportion of the budget on education and for having significant budgets for health and social protection, with a significant impact on poverty reduction.

Togo has the world’s second most progressive tax system on paper but is let down by poor tax collection. Tanzania is among countries with the tax systems most geared towards reducing inequality.

Niger, Liberia, and Uganda are said to exhibit extreme wage inequality.

Women are among the hardest hit economically, as they are more likely to be in precarious work and are also 70 percent of the world’s health workers.

The Oxfam Report on fighting inequality in the face of the pandemic recommends that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, governments must dramatically improve their efforts on progressive spending, taxation, and workers’ pay and protection.

Taxing on property and wealth could raise trillions of dollars to need for additional revenue to combat the COVID-19 crisis and to fund progress on public services.

That Governments, international institutions, and other stakeholders should work together to radically and rapidly improve data on inequality and related policies and to accurately and regularly monitor progress in reducing inequality.

Governments and international institutions which are serious about the deeply harmful impacts of inequality and the need to rapidly reduce it should come together to make the case for urgent action, especially in light of the dramatic increases in inequality that are likely to occur as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

G20 countries should allocate 50 percent of any revenue raised from the digital, financial transaction,s and other solidarity taxes in their own countries to increasing aid flows.

The International Monetary Fund to institute mechanisms that would provide more fiscal space for spending on public services and to increase resilience.

Comprehensive debt cancellation and reduction for many countries to ensure that they do not have unsustainable levels of debt stopping them from investing in greater resilience through universal health and social protection.

(With input from Oxfam Pan African Programme)

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