As hunger surges, here are three ways India can tackle its massive inequality

Amitabh Behar Inequality, Research, Tax

In our latest blog for Davos 2023, Amitabh Behar introduces the India supplement to Oxfam’s Davos report, which reveals how just 5% of Indians own more than 60% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom half of the population have 3%

India scene with informal dwellings and high-rises
The cover of the India supplement to Oxfam’s Davos report

In the past three years the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed and disrupted lives across the globe, with the pandemic bringing around 6.7 million deaths, and more than 200 million people pushed into unemployment.

Oxfam’s annual report for the World Economic Forum in Davos, “Survival of the Richest”, highlights how a minuscule group of people, namely dollar billionaires, not only escaped this heart-wrenching reality but had a golden period as their wealth swelled. In the past two years, billionaire fortunes increased by $2.7 billion a day while at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages. In 2020,  the richest one per cent in the world captured 75 per cent of all new wealth. 

Inequality and hunger surges in India

This week, Oxfam India released our own India supplement to the report, which highlights how India is no different: here, just 20 billionaires have the same wealth as 700 million Indians. Between 2012 and 2021, 40 per cent of the wealth created went to just our top one per cent. Today, just five per cent of Indians own more than 60 per cent of country’s wealth, while the bottom 50 per cent of India’s population have only three per cent of wealth. Shockingly, the number of hungry Indians increased from 190 million in 2018 to 350 million in 2022.

‘Obscene and growing inequality also directly confronts modern India’s moral foundations: equality is a fundamental pillar of the modern Indian republic’

This obscene and growing inequality also directly confronts modern India’s moral foundations: equality is a fundamental pillar of the modern Indian republic. This is not the time to look away as wealth get amassed at the top with the billionaires becoming more and more rich, while most of the population struggles to ensure three square meals for the family.

Tackling the growing wealth divide becomes even more urgent as it is clear that it risks leading to breakdown of social and political order. Surprisingly, even institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are now repeatedly pointing at the threats high levels of inequality pose to societies. The links between economic inequality, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy are becoming clear.

Three ways to deliver economic justice

India needs an alternative economic vision for a more equal society. We know the solutions: we just need the political will to implement them. This can start with three critical dimensions. First, is an overhaul of the tax system to make it more progressive, including introducing one-off solidarity windfall taxes, permanently increasing taxes on the richest one per cent, raising taxes on capital gains, and bringing back equalising measures such as inheritance and wealth taxes.

Second, we need to ensure robust and universal public services such as public health and education, as historically these have been the main drivers of creating more equal societies. In budgetary terms this should mean at least an allocation equivalent to 2.5 per cent of GDP for public health, and 6 per cent for public education, as already promised by successive governments.

Finally, we ned to ensure workers in the formal and more importantly in the informal sector are paid basic minimum wages. These minimum wages should set to be living wages essential for a life with dignity.

Growing inequality is neither inevitable nor a complex economic question. At the heart of this debate are moral and political choices. In India, we have a choice: between, on the one hand, the old order in service of the few with power and privilege and, on the other, building towards the higher goal of a just and equal society, so powerfully enshrined in our constitution.


Amitabh Behar

Amitabh Behar is chief executive of Oxfam India

Find out more: Read the full India supplement to Oxfam’s Davos 2023 report “Survival of the Richest”. Those in India can also take action by joining Oxfam India’s inequality campaign.

This blog is adapted from an article first published by The Deccan Herald. It’s the fifth in our series of blogs for Davos. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest Davos content and subscribe to our monthly round-up of Oxfam blogs and research.

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