• Norway comes top for reducing inequality, according to the latest Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index.
  • But before the pandemic hit, only 26 out of 158 countries were spending the recommended amount on healthcare.
  • Some countries, including Viet Nam, have taken great strides to level the playing field during COVID-19.
  • These are the countries working hardest to reduce inequality – and Oxfam and Development Finance International’s recommendations for making more of a difference.

Before COVID-19 swept across the globe and killed more than a million people, only one in six countries were spending the recommended 15% of their budget on health.

That combined with a lack of basic workers’ rights, including sick pay, and weak social safety nets left many countries “critically” unprepared to deal with the pandemic, new analysis from Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) reveals.

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, now in its third edition, ranks 158 governments on their policies in three pillars pivotal to levelling the playing field:

1. Public services, which include education, health and social protection

2. Progressive taxation, including corporate income tax and tax collection

3. Labour, which includes women’s rights in the workplace and the minimum wage

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Healthcare services were underfunded before COVID-19.
Image: Oxfam

“Governments’ catastrophic failure to tackle inequality meant the majority of the world’s countries were critically ill-equipped to weather the pandemic,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s interim executive director.

“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 is being launched ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund virtual Annual Meetings next week.

Here are some of the countries working hardest to reduce inequality.

The top 10

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The top ten rankings countries on the CRI index.
Image: Oxfam

Eight of the top 10 countries deemed to be doing the most to reduce inequality are in Europe, with Norway topping the 2020 CRI Index – and New Zealand and Canada the only outliers.

Norway also comes top in the labour ranking – which includes rights and wages – and has the sixth lowest income inequality in the world, according to the index.

But even the best-performing countries could do more, say Oxfam and DFI.

“Overall inequality and poverty have risen during the last decade and 15 OECD countries perform better than Norway on wealth inequality.”

Denmark, in second place, has seen 20 years of taxation policies that have increased inequality, the report says.

“In the last decade, income growth has stagnated for the 40% with the lowest incomes, while the richest 10% now own nearly half of the country’s total wealth.”

And the CRI Index says a drop in spending on education, which evidence shows can reduce inequality, is “alarming”. It’s thought the new Danish government will attempt to reverse some of these negative trends.

Germany ranks third, but its education spending rate is as low as that of South Sudan, one of the countries at the bottom of the public spending pillar – at 9.35% of government spending.

While Belgium, in fourth place, ranks only 37th on tax, partly due to recent cuts in corporate income taxes.

Read the rest of Kate Whiting’s article here at World Economic Forum