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Half a billion people could fall into poverty due to the coronavirus crisis

April 9, 2020

A new Oxfam report shows that more than half the world's population could live in poverty after the pandemic.

Oxfam's new report 'Dignity Not Destitution' shows that an additional 6% to 8% of the world's population could be forced into poverty as countries' economies shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. More than half of the world's population could live in poverty after the pandemic. This could set back the fight against poverty by 10 years, and as much as 30 years in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

"For people in poverty, who already had precarious employment and poorly paid jobs before the coronavirus crisis, there is no safety net. Many will end up in poverty and unable to feed their families. Rich countries, the IMF and the World Bank can and must offer a lifeline. Starting with a pause in all debt repayments."

Johan Pettersson, Secretary General of Oxfam Sweden

Globally, only one in five unemployed people have access to unemployment benefits. Two billion people work in the informal sector without access to sick pay - the majority in poor countries where 90% of all jobs are informal compared to only 18% in rich countries. According to UN estimates, half of all jobs in Africa could be lost in the coronavirus crisis, and few of those who lose their income will be able to receive financial support.

"The virus will cause us to starve before we get sick."

Micah Olywangu, father of three and taxi driver in Nairobi, Kenya

Women generally earn less than men, and the lowest-paid workers in all countries often have the most precarious forms of employment, often lacking sick pay and the ability to work from home. Women also make up 70% of the world's health workers and account for 75% of all unpaid domestic and care work globally. More than one million people working in the Bangladeshi garment industry - 80% of whom are women - have been sent home without pay or lost their jobs due to the withdrawal of orders by foreign garment companies.

Oxfam is now calling on the World Bank, the IMF and the G20 to vote for an economic crisis package for poor countries to enable them to provide financial support to those who have lost their income and to save small businesses. Oxfam suggests that this could be paid for by debt relief for developing countries in 2020.

"Governments must learn the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis, where bailouts for banks and companies were paid for by ordinary people as jobs were lost and essential services such as healthcare were cut. Crisis packages should benefit ordinary workers and small businesses."

Johan Pettersson, Secretary General of Oxfam Sweden

Oxfam is now expanding its work to distribute cash grants in vulnerable communities. In Yemen, we are helping families displaced by the conflict; in Colombia, we are supporting Venezuelan migrants; and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hit by the second largest Ebola epidemic in world history, cash grants are helping vulnerable families buy food.