Activism

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Shining a spotlight on inequality

Our 'Richest 62' stat hit a nerve last week and got the whole world talking. From journalists and economists to celebrities and the US Vice President - here's a selction of tweets which show just how far and wide the news about our shocking report on inequality travelled.

 

"..and for me, obviously you know inequality is a priority" - Enda Kenny speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

All this talk must be backed up with action. Sign our petition now for a fairer Ireland and a fairer world.

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Two sides of the same story

 
Imagine a tax haven, and you might imagine an island with palm trees, yachts and pristine white sands. Some tax havens look like this, some are less glamorous. But however they look on the surface, underneath a very different picture can be found.
 
Tax havens are at the heart of a global system that allows multinational companies and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share while 896 million people worldwide are trapped in extreme poverty, and seven out of ten people on the planet now live in countries where economic inequality is worse than it was 30 years ago. Tax havens deprive governments of the resources they need to provide vital public services, like health and education, and to tackle rising inequality.
 
While the super-rich benefit vastly from this global system, its devastating impact can be felt in some of the poorest communities in the world.
 
 
Above: The Jamaica Dump, Nairobi, Kenya – April 2014
 
When we met him, Morgan said he thought he was five years old but he wasn‘t sure. He was playing at a dump in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi while his mother worked, sorting through the rubbish. The local children often come here to scavenge for food scraps, or work alongside the adults. Morgan told us he wasn‘t at school as his family couldn’t afford it.
 
It’s a huge injustice, especially when you consider that Kenya is the fastest growing economy in Africa. While some progress is being made, too many ordinary people aren’t seeing the benefit. In fact, around 34% of Kenya’s population live in extreme poverty.
 
According to the World Health Organisation, there is only around two doctors for every 10,000 people . And for the people of the Mukuru slum, even basic services like sanitation, water and education are scarce. 
 

Meanwhile...

 
In February 2015, leaked files revealed that a small number of rich individuals connected to Kenya were stowing away around $560 million in bank accounts in Switzerland. This is hidden, untaxed wealth - revenue that Kenya’s government needs to ensure that children like Morgan have a future.
 
This is just one example of a huge problem that’s happening around the world, not just in Kenya. The systemic use of tax havens by wealthy individuals and multinational companies is denying the poorest governments hundreds of billions in unpaid tax, and it’s holding back the fight against global poverty and inequality. 
 
TODAY, JUST 62 BILLIONAIRES OWN THE SAME WEALTH AS THE POOREST HALF OF THE POPULATION.
 
Every year, the gap between rich and poor gets even wider – and it’s being fuelled by the use of tax havens. As much as $7.6 trillion of personal wealth is being hidden in offshore accounts, and it has a devastating impact on poorer countries.
 
As much as 30 percent of all African financial wealth is estimated to be held offshore, costing an estimated $14 billion (approx. €12.9bn/£9.7bn) in lost tax revenues every year.
 
This is enough money to pay for healthcare for mothers and children that could save 4 million children’s lives a year, and employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.
 
 
Then there are the vast profits made by corporations and stored in tax havens. While rich individuals can hide their wealth in tax havens, multinational companies can use them to shift profits from the countries where they do business. 
 
It‘s estimated that tax dodging by multinational companies costs the world’s poorest countries at least $100 billion every year.

How the other half live

Barbara is a widow. She spends hours every day walking to collect water for her crops, so she can feed her two children. And when her husband was alive, she had to sell livestock to pay for his care. She never had the chance to go to school. If she had, she would have liked to be a nurse or a teacher. Barbara told us she felt like “a lost person”.

But Barbara knows that things could be different. If everyone paid their fair share of tax, we could have a chance to meet the basic needs of people living in poverty, give them control over their own lives and the opportunity to change their futures.
 
 

THE GENERATION TO END EXTREME POVERTY, THE GENERATION TO BUILD A FAIRER WORLD

Every day, kind and generous people are doing what they can to help change things for people facing poverty - and great strides are being made. In fact by 2030, we can end extreme poverty completely. To achieve this, we need a powerful and practical response. We need to make sure economic growth benefits the poorest people. If we’re going to end extreme poverty, we need to make sure global tax rules work for the many - not just the few. We all need to be part of the solution. And you can help right now, by signing a letter to the government calling for an end to tax havens. It’s time for change.

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Did you hear the one about 62 billionaires with the same wealth as half the world?

 
When one talks about 62 billionaires on a bus with the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population, it may sound like the start of a surreal joke – a bad one, with no punchlines and no laughs, except for the privileged few. 
 
That’s because the world has become a much more unequal place and the speed of the runaway inequality bus is accelerating. 
 
Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, and in September agreed a global goal to reduce it, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months. 
 
We now have a world where 62 people – so few they would fit on a single coach – own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population. This number has fallen from 80 last year and 388 as recently as 2010.
 
 
Above: Faith is a banana farmer in Zambia, where she struggles to make ends meet. Zambia is among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, yet despite economic growth, inequality is getting worse and most of the population are not seeing the benefits of this economic development. The number of people living below the $1.25 poverty line grew from 65 percent in 2003 to 74.5 percent in 2014. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
The wealth of the richest 62 has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion (approximately €1.62/£1.22tr.). Meanwhile, the wealth of the poorer half of the world has fallen dramatically by 41% since 2010, despite the global population increasing by around 400 million people during that period.
 
These shocking statistics are highlighted in a new Oxfam report, An Economy for the 1%, which has been published ahead of this week’s annual gathering of the world’s financial and political elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
 
Oxfam’s prediction – made ahead of last year’s Davos – that the 1% would soon own more than the rest of us by 2016, actually came true in 2015, a year earlier than expected.
 
 
 
Above: Faith outside her house. Faith lives with her husband Jackson and six children (her two daughters, granddaughter, two nephews, and niece) in Chiawa, Zambia. It’s a rural area with few transport links, health centres, and employment opportunities. One of the reasons inequality in Zambia is so bad is because global tax rules allow multinational mining companies to generate vast profits from their operations in the country, whilst paying very little tax. Lost revenue is desperately needed to improve infrastructure and invest in public services. Oxfam’s research has shown that this is one of the most effective ways of tackling extreme inequality. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Poorer people are paying the price of rapidly increasing inequality. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate. 
 
Rather than an economy that works for the prosperity of all, we have instead created a global economy for the 1%. Ordinary working families are up against odds that are impossible to beat. The big winners are those at the top and our economic system is heavily skewed in their favour. 
 
Power and privilege allows the richest individuals and companies to write the rules of the economic game to avoid paying their fair share to society. An elaborate system of tax loopholes and an industry of wealth managers ensures that vast wealth stays untaxed, far from the reach of ordinary citizens and their governments. 
 
This potential tax revenue is needed to pay for vital services like schools and hospitals; the services which play a vital role in tackling inequality and escaping poverty. It means governments keep putting their hands in the pockets of ordinary taxpayers to pay for the shortfall – many of whom can least afford it.
 
 
Above: “I only manage through survival. It’s just survival,” says Barbara Chinyeu, an Oxfam-supported banana farmer in Zambia, pictured with her children 10-year-old Gertrude and Edward, aged 5. Barbara is a widow who risks her life every day by gathering water in a crocodile-infested river so she can to irrigate her crops and feed her two children. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Oxfam analysed more than 200 companies, including the world’s biggest and the World Economic Forum’s strategic partners, and has found that 9 out of 10 companies analysed have a presence in at least one of 10 jurisdictions classified by the report as the most aggressive for tax avoidance, a list that includes Ireland.
 
It is estimated that tax dodging by multinational corporations costs developing countries at least $100billion every year. Globally, it is estimated that a total of $7.6tr of individuals’ wealth sits offshore (i.e. is deposited in low-tax jurisdictions) – a twelfth of the total. If tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190billion would be available to governments every year.
 
Just consider how that money could help the vulnerable poor in a country such as Malawi, for example. 
 
Video below: Hear a nurse and teacher in Malawi speak about their daily challenges to help patients and pupils.
 
 

Inequality in Malawi: Health & Education

Because despite growing wealth among the urban elite over the past seven years, Malawi – one of the world’s poorest countries with seriously under-resourced health and education systems – has also seen inequality increase. 
 
As well as a crackdown on tax dodging Oxfam is urging world leaders to increase investment in public services and act to boost the income of the lowest paid. 
 
The new Oxfam report shows how women globally are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current ‘62’, 53 are men and just nine are women. The majority of low paid workers around the world are women. 
 
Oxfam Ireland is also calling on our politicians to do more to end the gender pay gap that sees that sees women earn less than men (almost 14% in the Republic of Ireland; 12.5% in Northern Ireland).
 
It is time our politicians take note and reject this broken economic model. We cannot continue to allow hundreds of millions of people to go hungry while resources that could be used to help them are sucked up by those at the top.
 
Inequality is not inevitable. Inequality is the result of policy choices. We need our leaders to tell the 1% that the 99% and particularly those struggling to make ends meet here and overseas have had enough.
 
 
Above: Barbara carries water to her house. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam
 
Oxfam is calling for urgent action – a crackdown on tax dodging, increased investment in public services and action to boost the income of the lowest paid – to tackle the inequality crisis and reverse the dramatic fall in wealth of the poorest half of the world. 
 
Allowing governments to collect the taxes they are owed from companies and rich individuals will be vital if world leaders are to meet their new goal, set last September, to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. 
 
As a priority, Oxfam is calling for an end to tax dodging which has seen increasing use of offshore centres by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying their fair share to society. This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality. 
 
With 2016 being an election year throughout Ireland, north and south, Oxfam is calling on election candidates to prioritise inequality and inviting voters to join its campaign calling on politicians to tackle tax dodging, roll out universal access to healthcare and end the gender pay gap in their respective new programmes for government.
 
 
Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland. Follow him on Twitter here.
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Climate Change. Poverty. Hunger. It’s all the same fight.

This week thousands of people around the world are standing shoulder to shoulder with rural women, who are not only feeling the harshest effects of climate change but, in the face of woeful government inaction, are also leading the fight in feeding their communities, and the world. We meet women like Ipaishe, a farmer in Zimbabwe who is passionate about farming and vocal about the causes and solutions to climate change. And Langging, a young activist in the Philippines who thinks we should stop blaming each other and start doing what’s right – “imagine the impact we could have”.

Across six continents and more than 20 countries these women’s voices are being heard; on the streets, by politicians, online, in forums, at flashmobs, through song, through dance, at festivals, dinners, and on film. Welcome to GROW Week 2015!

Above: Anastasia Antonia, a member of the Farmer Field School of AENA, hitchhiking to Paris. Mozambique. Photo: Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Raising these voices this GROW Week is particularly significant as we are now just weeks away from the UN Climate Negotiations in Paris where government leaders from rich and poor countries will make big decisions about climate change that will affect all of us.

Climate change is changing the world we love. It’s putting our homes, our land and our food at risk and it’s threatening the fight against hunger.  For most of us, it means less quality food, less choice, and higher prices. For nearly a billion people already living in poverty, it means more hunger.  

Our message to leaders is that they must ensure that money to help people cope with the effects of climate change is on the way up, and the use of fossil fuels, the biggest drivers of climate change, is on the way out. And they have to start by protecting the people whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk.

This GROW Week we stand together to show what’s already possible and urge leaders to be as ambitious as these women in Paris.

Climate Change. Poverty. Hunger. It’s all the same fight.

Hear straight from Ipaishe, Langging and others here.

Take action now - Stand against climate change

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The loveliest letter you'll ever read

Video: Brian Malone/Oxfam

Thurs, October 8th, 2015

Dear Oxfam,
I have done a yard-sale to raise funds for Syrian people who are refugees.
It is not nice for anyone to live in tents in cold. I just don’t agree with it.
From Grace (10) and Nina (9),
Cabra, Dublin 7.

Sometimes the most powerful words come from children. The above letter to our Dublin office accompanied a cheque for €32.41 for our Syrian emergency response. This donation is most welcome – it will help provide safe drinking water and other aid to Syrian refugees living in camps and experiencing the most difficult of times. But the letter’s message – about what’s fair and what’s right – is just as powerful.

Forced to leave their homes and everything they know behind, Syrian refugees have had to put normal life on hold indefinitely, living in camps and informal settlements many miles from home where basics like a warm place to sleep, enough food to eat and a school to go to are difficult to come by if not impossible.

Hearing about the challenges faced by the Syrian relatives of a family friend and watching coverage of the crisis on the news made Dubliners and best friends Grace and Nina want to help.

Above: Grace and Nina's letter to Oxfam. Grace and Nina telling us their story. A picture from the  girls' yard sale for Syrian refugees. Grace's mum, Susan.

“It was really sad and kind of scary for me, so I didn’t really want to look at it,” explains Grace. “But I kind of do now because I want to find out more.”

Grace’s mother Susan spoke to them about the situation faced by Syrian refugees.

“We have a friend whose family are living in the refugee camps near Syria who had to flee their homes,” Susan says. “I had an image in my head of children in the camps not wearing shoes around the time of it being winter and it really kind of hit home. They were freezing cold and they didn’t have the comforts of home in addition to all the trauma they were going through.

“So [Grace and Nina] came back then and said, ‘Yes, we’d like to give the money to Oxfam and to the refugees in the camps’.”

But the yard sale and all the work involved was very much Grace and Nina’s doing. As Susan says, “They’re a pair who come up with ideas and they’re always on a project of some kind or other.”

There was lots to do including posters to make and rice crispie buns to bake. The pair also parted with some favourite toys and the event was a big success.

Nina explains: “I didn’t think it was going to be a big yard sale but then when we were getting everything ready, it was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

The girls have been inspired by what they’ve achieved (they raised a total of €64.82 and divided the funds between Dogs for the Disabled and Oxfam Ireland), so watch this space!

“We want to help refugees even more,” says Grace, while Nina adds: “And doing the yard sale was really fun.”

Out of a total of 22 million people living in Syria before the crisis, more than half the population has been forced to flee their homes, including more than 4 million who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Above: Syrian refugee Ahmad carries his daughter Nour as they walk towards a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Presevo, in southern Serbia. He and the group he's walking with had already travelled for 20 kilometres that day. We have begun a new emergency programme in Serbia to help the thousands like Ahmad and Nour who are fleeing to safety. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Along with providing Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water and relief supplies like blankets and stoves, we are also helping families get the information they need about their rights and connecting them to medical, legal and support services. Other work includes building shower and toilet blocks in camps. We are also providing clean water in Syria itself.

We have also begun an emergency programme in Serbia providing clean water and sanitation to help some of the thousands fleeing to safety, including many Syrians, who will soon face a harsh Balkans winter. Meanwhile in Italy we have programmes providing asylum seekers who have been saved from the Mediterranean Sea with housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes. We continue to campaign and advocate for an immediate ceasefire and a sustainable and inclusive political solution to the conflict in Syria.

We are also highlighting the individual stories of refugees to make them more visible through the EUsaveLIVES joint campaign with the European Commission.

When we shared Grace and Nina’s letter with colleagues working on the Syria crisis emergency response, the message of support made their day.

To know that people like Grace and Nina care about what’s happening to Syrian refugees and want to help, inspires us all.

By highlighting unfairness and how to do something about it, as they have, the future can be better place.

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