New global index shows “catastrophic” failure to tackle inequality left majority of world’s countries woefully unprepared for COVID-19

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Norway tops index, United States flails at 26, South Sudan ranks last

Very low spending on public healthcare, weak social safety nets and poor labor rights meant the majority of the world’s countries were woefully ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19, reveals new analysis from Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) today.  

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index [AT1] (CRII) shows that only 26 out of 158 countries were spending a recommended 15 percent of their budgets on health prior to the pandemic, and in 103 countries at least one in three workers lacked basic labor rights and protections, like sick pay, when the virus struck.

The index ranks 158 governments on their policies on public services, tax and workers’ rights, three areas pivotal to reducing inequality and weathering the COVID-19 storm. It is being launched ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) virtual Annual Meetings next week.

Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s interim executive director, said:

“Governments’ catastrophic failure to tackle inequality meant the majority of the world’s countries were critically ill-equipped to weather the pandemic. No country on earth was trying hard enough to reduce inequality and ordinary people are bearing the brunt of this crisis as a result. Millions of people have been pushed into poverty and hunger and there have been countless unnecessary deaths.”

The index highlights that no country in the world was doing enough to tackle inequality prior to the pandemic and while COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for some, many countries are still failing to act. This is helping to fuel the crisis and has increased the vulnerability of people living in poverty, especially women. For example:

Women, who generally earn less, save less and hold insecure jobs, have been particularly hard hit by the lockdowns introduced in response to the pandemic while unpaid care work and gender-based violence have increased dramatically. Nearly half of the world’s countries do not have adequate legislation on sexual assault and 10 countries, including Singapore and Sierra Leone, have no laws on equal pay or gender discrimination.

Matthew Martin, Development Finance International’s director, said:

“Extreme inequality is not inevitable, and you don’t have to be a wealthy country to do something about it. We know that policies such as free public healthcare, safety nets for people who can’t work, decent wages and a fair tax system, have been proven to fight inequality. Failure to implement them is a political choice ―one that COVID-19 has exposed with catastrophic economic and human costs.

“Governments must learn the lessons of this pandemic and seize this opportunity to build fairer, more resilient societies and a better tomorrow for us all, added Martin. 

Notes to editors

Download the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII), methodology note and datasets .

Visit the index’s new, interactive website  to learn more.                                                 

The 2020 CRII has seen significant changes in methodology from 2018. These changes to the index’s methodology mean that a straight comparison between the scores of a country in the 2020 index and those for 2018 may not give an accurate picture of its performance. For this reason, analysis of changes focuses on concrete policy changes since 2018’s index.

Oxfam and DFI used the 15 percent health budget recommendation in line with the Abuja Declaration. In April 2001, heads of state of African Union countries met and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15 percent of their annual budget to improve the health sector. The Abuja Declaration provides a budget benchmark for other countries on health spending levels.

Contact information

Annie Thériault in Montreal, Canada | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | +51 936 307 990

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