Inequality

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Stories of hope for International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day 2017, we're celebrating some of the inspirational women we have the privilege of working with around the world.

MAITRE FROM HAITI

Pictured top left, Maitre says “I’m very proud because I am a strong woman. I am a girl doing a man’s job and I am capable and able.”

Maitre Marie Nadeige (36) from Haiti is one of 100 women trained by Oxfam in construction. These women have joined the workforce and are now helping to improve infrastructure and repair roads in their areas. Since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Oxfam has been working with partners to help people rebuild their lives and make their communities less vulnerable to disaster. 

AYINKAMIYE FROM RWANDA

Pictured top right, Ayinkamiye Josepha works on the Tuzamurane Co-operative – an Oxfam partner-run pineapple farm in the Kirehe District in east Rwanda. Before the co-operative, women were growing and selling pineapples on a much smaller scale for a low price and were trapped in poverty. Now the women working as part of the co-operative grow pineapple crops on both their own land and the co-operative’s and these are sold to be juiced or dried in the in-house processing plant. The profits from sales are invested back into the business and shared between the members. Oxfam has also helped connect the women with banks so that they can access funds to pay for health insurance and school fees.

EMAM FROM IRAQ

Pictured bottom left, Emam Mahdi Saleh (36) is a business woman and mother of five from Jalawla in Iraq. Her salon was damaged during the ISIS occupation of the town but she’s now back in business after receiving a loan from Oxfam for repairs. Oxfam has been helping other business owners like Emam to get back on their feet through small loans and paid work to help rebuild the town. 

NATALIA PARTSKHALADZE FROM RUSSIA

Pictured bottom right, Natalia says “Everything started with an idea and a very small investment from a small saving. Oxfam supported with branding and restoration of the facilities. It is important to work together…”

Natalia Partskhaladze (41) is the founder of the Kona Co-operative in a village in Georgia’s Kaspi Municipality in Russia. The co-operative produces black and herbal teas and was set up in 2015 as part of a nationwide project led by Oxfam that has facilitated the formation of 48 co-operatives in 13 municipalities, employing around 10,000 people. Natalia’s co-operative employs five women and buys materials from other co-operatives to supplement locally sourced herbs and flowers.

Video: A story of hope from Iraq

Zahia and her family were forced to flee their home when ISIS came to their village. When ISIS were gone Zahia returned to her house and with a little help from Oxfam, regained hope of creating a home and an independent life.

This is her story.

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Hunger Crisis Appeal: major food shortages across Africa

20 February 2017

I am Colm Byrne, Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager. I have just returned from Niger, a country in the Lake Chad region in West Africa where already pockets of famine have been reported and large numbers of people are dying due to malnutrition and diarrhoea.  As you may have heard in the news, famine has recently been declared in South Sudan. This is another country where I have seen first-hand the scale of the hunger crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.

With household food stocks scarce and food prices rising in the absence of production, many families are struggling to survive in the Lake Chad region where some seven million people simply cannot find enough food to eat.

Across the Chad Basin region, new mothers, their children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable as a result of the hunger crisis gripping the region where currently 1 out of every 3 children is suffering from malnutrition.

Above: Aamin, who is two and half years old and badly malnourished is held by his mother Aisha, 35, at at a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Oxfam is helping people here with sanitation and protection issues. 

Hunger, wherever it exists, is cruel. Worst of all, its deadly. Malnutrition is one of the largest causes of child death in this region – and children in drought-affected regions such as this are most at risk.

I heard so many harrowing stories of the hunger faced by vulnerable people. Families like Aisha* and her young son Aamin* pictured above are an all-too common sight for Oxfam staff. Aisha is living in a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri in Niger, and two-and-a-half-year-old Aamin is severely malnourished.

By donating now, you can act quickly to make sure that people like Aisha and Aamin do not go hungry. Your support can help stop people’s rapid decline into malnutrition or famine.

We’ve already reached many thousands of people with food, water, livelihoods support, sanitation and hygiene kits in response to the hunger crisis in Niger and the Lake Chad region. We have distributed cooking equipment and provided seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. But our aim this year is to reach over 1.5 million people with life-saving assistance before it is too late.

Can you please help us reach that target?

In southern Africa, Malawi is also experiencing a major food crisis. The worst drought in decades has meant that people cannot grown food to feed their families. February is the lean time’ between harvests when typically there is little food to eat. But, today, there is barely any food at al. In a country like Malawi, where 9 in 10 people rely on farming, this drought has brought communities to the brink of catastrophe and a national state of emergency has been declared.

Oxfam is supporting people such as Julis Magawa in Malawi. The eyes of this proud and dignified man betray his sadness and the hardship this family man has endured.

He told us that his children had been crying because they were so hungry. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to know that day after day your children don’t have enough food to eat. Like so many others in Malawi, Julius has had to resort to desperate measures just to keep his family alive.

Speaking to Oxfam, Julius confessed he’d been so afraid for his wife Lucy and their children that he’d been driven to do something he hated doing. He’d been forced to break the law. Julius has again and again gone into the nearby forest and cut down trees for firewood. He’d sold this firewood for a pittance – but it was just enough as he told our staff with starting honesty. “It’s the only way I can feed my children.”

How would any of us behave in this situation? I simply don’t know. But I do know that Julius doesn’t want to break the law. He just wants to keep his children alive.

Above: Julius and Lucy struggle to feed their children.

With a targeted injection of cash from Oxfam, we can help him to buy food from the local market so he can feed his family over the coming months. We can also give him the seeds to grow new crops. That way we can help Julius earn his living safely – and keep the whole family out of poverty.

By sending a gift today, you can help Dads like Julius to support their family in a safe and sustainable way. You can help mums like Aisha to feed their children without having to resort to begging.

The displaced families and communities I visited count among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. We now live in a world where 1 in 9 people goes to bed hungry every night. It’s obscene that while this is happening across the world today we know that just 8 men have as much wealth as the 3.6 million people who make up the poorer half of humanity.

We will not eliminate extreme poverty unless countries begin to close the gap between the richest and the rest. But in the meantime, together we can help beat the hunger crisis that has countries like Malawi and Niger in its grip.

Please don’t delay and make a donation today. Thank you.   

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Our taxes are not meeting our basic needs and rights

Wanjiru Kanyiha is a Kenyan tax activist from Oxfam partner Inuka [Rise Up] Kenya Ni Sisi. Wanjiru is visiting Ireland to share her first-hand experience of how rising inequality and tax avoidance is harming communities in Africa. 

As Wanjiru says: "It is perverse to witness high-rise apartments and superhighways… while people in many parts of the country live without the dignity of a proper toilet.”

Come and meet Wanjiru at our free public events later this month in Belfast  and Dublin. 

Photo: Wanjiru Kanyiha is in Ireland to raise awareness about the impact of inequality on people like Barbara from Zambia, pictured above. Each day, Barbara faces a stark choice – going hungry or facing crocodiles. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/OxfamI live in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The story from Kenya 

I live in Nairobi, Kenya. A beautiful city. A city of many contradictions. A city of the haves and have nots. A drive around Nairobi demonstrates just that – from the leafy and upscale neighbourhoods of Karen, Lavington, Muthaiga and Gigiri, which houses the UN headquarters, to the sprawling slums of Kibera, Mukuru, Mathare, Kawangware and Kangemi, just to mention a few, where the majority of the Nairobians live. 

Nairobi can be deceptive – so much inequality can lie in such a small area. For example, take Kawangware, a slum which sits juxtaposed in sharp contrast to the paved and well-lit streets of her neighbour Lavington, a suburb located towards the North West part of Nairobi’s Central Business District. 

In Lavington, water is scarce and sanitation extremely poor. It is densely populated and the residents have little or no access to essential public services such as hospitals and schools. 

Then there’s Kibera – the largest slum in Africa. A badge Nairobi has to wear alongside that of being East Africa’s fastest growing economy. Contradictions.

Inequality is stark in Kenya. According to UN statistics, 46% of Kenya’s population lives below the poverty line. The number of people living in poverty is increasing as the cost of living rises. Children, youth and women have it particularly hard. The Kenya Youth Survey Report indicates that 80% of the Kenya population are young people. The median age is estimated at 19 years old, and about 80 percent of Kenya’s population is below the age of 35. 

The survey revealed that unemployment among young people aged between 18 and 20 was a staggering 80%. With little work to go around, both in the formal and informal labour markets, young people today in Kenya find it hard to feed themselves and access basic services. This will continue the cycle of poverty and inequality if we don’t do something about it.

Rise up and mobilise 

I work with Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi! Limited, one of Oxfam’s partners in Kenya. Inuka means ‘Rise Up’ in Kiswahili. Our job is to mobilise Kenyans, particularly young people, and get them active about tax and other social issues that affect them. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting topic but when you start thinking about it, having a fair tax system is crucial to fighting inequality. 

We engage on the ground, within communities and via online social media platforms. We form and host both online and offline conversations [#MaskaniConversations] that raise awareness on social and tax justice issues and get the communities to mobilise amongst themselves and seek solutions to the various problems that face them.

On a fundamental level, the average Kenyan pays numerous taxes. There is income tax, VAT, excise duty, among other taxes. But after all these taxes, are we getting access to quality, basic essential services? The answers is no – and for as long as I can remember this has been the case for many ordinary citizens in Kenya.

For example, Kenyan doctors have been on strike for two months over pay, benefits, working conditions and other terms for almost two months. Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya’s largest public referral hospital, and many other county government hospitals have been paralysed by the strike. They have had to turn away patients as there are no doctors to offer services. The stalemate between the doctors and government continues and the Kenyan people are left to their own devices. 

This is just one way in which we can see that our taxes are not meeting our basic needs and rights. They aren’t going to the services that will help close the gap between the rich and the rest. The Kenyan government needs to demonstrate that it cares about the doctors because this shows that they care about the citizens, through investing our taxes in our public services, equipping public hospitals and providing better terms for doctors and staff that work in these hospitals. 

Our project with Oxfam in Kenya not only focuses on raising awareness among Kenyans of their duty to pay tax, but also their rights to demand that these taxes go into financing essential services that benefit them, that help them lead a better and more dignified life. 

The middle class in Kenya ends up paying for the services that the government isn’t delivering. Kenya’s middle income earners have to plunge deeper into their pockets for private healthcare, education, security, water and almost every other social amenity one can think of. They are lucky because they have the means to find private solutions for public problems. But they are effectively paying twice. They pay their taxes and then have to pay for private services that the government fails to deliver. 

However, the crucial question is what about those at the bottom who can’t afford to pay for these private services? They are the ones who suffer the most. They are paying taxes but they don’t get the services they need and they are pushed further into poverty.

Meanwhile, the rich corporations and individuals are not paying enough in taxes. This deprives the governments of tax revenues which could be pumped into our national budget. But the big multinational corporations are given incentives and tax breaks and other incentives while the local entrepreneur doesn’t get those incentives. 

According to a report by Tax Justice Africa, tax incentives to big corporations cost the Kenyan coffers 100 billion Kenyan shillings a year. That could cover the 2016 budget for primary and secondary education in Kenya twice over. That’s not fair. What’s worse is that those who don’t pay enough are often protected by those in government who make the decisions.

Dignity before development

At Inuka, our mantra is dignity before development. It is perverse to witness high-rise apartments, superhighways and multi-billion infrastructural developments going on, while people in many parts of the country live without the dignity of a proper toilet. This isn’t only about tax justice and inequality; it’s about our lives – the lives and dignity of the Kenyan people. It’s about holding our duty bearers to account to uphold the rights that are in our constitution. 

By highlighting some of these issues through our social media platforms, we are able to paint the real picture of what it means for the ordinary citizen not to have access to these services, while at the same time lobbying to the relevant stakeholders to do something about it.

It is this that makes me do what I do and dedicate my time to this cause. It is saddening that Kenya has been independent for over fifty years but we are far from liberating ourselves. We aren’t able to speak up and speak out when we see injustices. Some places, like Turkana in the northern part of Kenya and one of the counties where we are implementing the tax justice programme, still don’t have access to water after more than half a century of independence. 

We need to rise up as one people and one voice but this is hard when there are so many inequalities and divisions. We need to make sure our leaders do right by us, to make sure these taxes are paid and pumped into the services Kenyans so badly need.

I am always trying to mobilise my friends. To do this I try and break it down – what does this mean for you? Just because you have food in your belly, it doesn’t mean that your neighbour does, it doesn’t mean that they have access to the services that you are able to enjoy. It’s my job as a campaigner and as a citizen to offer solutions to those problems – or at the very least direct them to a space where the people can seek adequate resolution. The tax justice programme does just that. Fixing the skewed tax system is a concrete way we help to solve economic inequality.

If our freedom fighters or Wangari Maathai, a famous Kenyan environmentalist, gave up or declared the fight hopeless, Kenya wouldn’t be where it is today. Wangari was often beaten and brutalised by the government but she never stopped fighting. We might not win this war today but that does not mean we stop fighting. My little contribution is talking about these issues. Whether the government of the day listens or not, the important thing is not to be silenced. Keep talking, doing, mobilising, pushing.

Then we will know we are on the right side of history.

Wanjiru Kanyiha 

Wanjiru will be speaking at our free public events in the MAC in Belfast on 27th February and in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in Dublin on 28th February. Find out more and come and hear her in person..

This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this webpage are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.

Find out more and take our tax action: https://www.oxfamireland.org/tax 

 
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A world where 8 men own the same wealth as humanity’s poorer half

16/01/17

A new Oxfam report, An Economy for the 99%, published by Oxfam today shows that the inequality crisis is far bigger than previously thought – today just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity. This huge gap between the super-rich and the rest of us is trapping millions in poverty, fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

The vast majority of people at the bottom half of the world’s population are very poor people who are struggling to get by. Approximately 70% of this group live in low income countries. One in four people live in India, while one in five is in sub-Saharan Africa. Just 1% are in North America and 8% in Europe.

It is true that in recent decades poorer countries have been growing faster than richer ones, and we are starting to see the gap between countries narrow. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades, an achievement of which the world should be proud. Yet one in nine people still go to bed hungry. Had inequality not increased over this period, 700 million more people, most of them women, would not be living in poverty today. The World Bank is clear that without redoubling their efforts to tackle inequality, world leaders will miss their global goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. 

At the same time, inequality within nations has been rising in the majority of countries over the last 30 years and is having a hugely negative impact on many people’s lives. 

Meet Jane

Jane Muthoni she sells homemade bags, mats, jewellery, soap and tie-dyed material in one of Nairobi’s many informal settlements. The small amount of money she makes helps put food on the table and send her two children to school. But it’s hard for small stallholders like Jane to earn enough money, no matter how hard they work. Though they pay fees and taxes to trade, Jane says they don’t have the same rights and services as rich people. 

“We do not have very good roads,” says Jane. “We don’t have good houses. There is no proper drainage. When it is dark, there are no lights. It is very unfair because we are all Kenyans. We are entitled to equal rights, but there are those big people who do things I can’t because I don’t have money.

“The gap between poor and rich people in Kenya is sometimes very humiliating. To see that it is just a wall that defines these rich people from the lower class. You find that some of their children drive cars and when you are passing around the roads you get covered in dust, or if it is raining you are splashed with water.”

Above left: Jane Muthoni (front in striped top) with fellow members of Shining Mothers, a community based group teaching women  business skills. The group also ensures their voice is being heard by the local government.  Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam. Above right: Jane describes her local area to Oxfam’s Joyce Kabue and points out poor public services in her community in Kawangware, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

Jane is trying to change this situation. She has set up a community women’s group called the Shining Mothers, which is supported by one of Oxfam’s local partners. This group has regular ‘table banking’ meetings to teach business skills and help each other with their savings and loans. The Shining Mothers discuss issues which affect them in their community and raise these at public meetings, to ensure their voice is being heard by the local government.

At a recent meeting with the council, Jane and the Shining Mothers raised the issue of council fee collection and it was established that the council should only come twice a week. Empowered with this knowledge, the Shining Mothers have pushed back against the exploitative fees and have been able to continue saving for their business licence.

“That is the most enjoyable thing, empowering my community,” Jane added. “Because if a community is not empowered, we will live in poverty forever.”

While Jane struggles, Kenya’s economy is growing. The richest Kenyan’s net worth is over $700 million, yet 42% of the country’s 44 million people still live below the poverty line. Big corporations operating in Kenya pocket $1.1 billion a year in tax incentives. Yet small-scale traders like Jane face difficult application processes in order to access credit and loans. Many are forced to pay unlawful daily fees to the county government in order to operate yet there is no waste collection, infrastructure or even a decent water supply in the informal trading areas where they work.

Economic growth does not automatically translate into society-wide prosperity for people like Jane, unless appropriate policies are implemented by governments across the world.

The extreme levels of inequality documented in our new report are having major national and international consequences. From Brexit and the success of Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign, to the rise of populism around the globe and widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo. 

The last time the world experienced similar extreme levels of inequality was at the start of the 20th century, where we experienced 30 years of violent political upheaval and war as a result of inaction on inequality.

This report lays out a blueprint for what a more human global economy would look like, which includes greater cooperation between governments on tax dodging to generate the funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation, and by dismantling the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work. (On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men).

Tax revenues are critical for funding the policies and services that can fight inequality including infrastructure, health and education. The use of tax havens and loopholes or the securing of preferential tax treatment doesn’t just reduce abstract balance sheets. Everyone else is forced to pick up the bill and the human cost is borne by the most vulnerable in society.

Take action on tax

In this respect Ireland needs to fulfil its commitments to reform and be part of a fair and just tax system at EU and international level. We need to tackle aggressive tax planning, to implement strong controlled foreign company rules to prevent profit-shifting and improve transparency by forcing multinational corporations to make public where they make profits and pay tax. Ireland needs to support a new generation of international tax reforms beyond what has been agreed at EU and OECD level to date, including the creation of a global tax body.

With Northern Ireland set to take control of corporation tax in 2018, the Stormont Executive must ensure any new proposed tax regime here is fair, open and transparent – and that it does not negatively impact on vulnerable people. Any reform of the corporate tax system must contain safeguards preventing corporations from taking advantage to avoid tax owed elsewhere. Otherwise there is a risk that Northern Ireland could be used as a tax haven. 

Finally, it is important to remember that inequality is not inevitable. Global inequality has been reversed before, and can be again. World leaders can rebalance economies with every budget passed and every rule of law or regulation written or dismantled. As per the name of our campaign against economic inequality, is time to ‘Even it Up’. 

Michael McCarthy Flynn is Oxfam Ireland’s Senior Research and Policy Coordinator 

Watch Jane's story

This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this webpage are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.

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Tax battles: Home truths on tax

If you were asked to picture a typical tax haven, you would probably start thinking of an exotic island with palm trees and golden sandy beaches. And yes, the stereotype is partly true. Bermuda, Barbados and the Bahamas certainly fit that bill. 
 
So far, so typically tropical. But some other tax havens are closer to home than you might think.
 
That’s because a new Oxfam report – entitled ‘Tax Battles’ – found Ireland ranked 6th in a new league table of the world’s worst corporate tax havens which help big companies avoid paying their fair share of tax.
 
And it’s costing governments the world over billions that could pay for health, education and tackling poverty. 
 

TAX BATTLES

 
Ireland’s score was based on its lack of effective rules to prevent corporate tax dodging and because it facilitates large-scale corporate tax avoidance through profit-shifting and aggressive tax planning structures. 
 
Loopholes and so-called sweetheart deals – like the tax arrangements enjoyed by Apple, which enabled the global tech giant at one point to pay a 0.005 percent corporate tax rate – mean big firms can dodge tax here and in poor countries, where that cash is needed to pay for roads, doctors and schools. 
 
The full list of the world’s worst tax havens, in order of significance are: (1) Bermuda, (2) the Cayman Islands, (3) the Netherlands, (4) Switzerland, (5) Singapore, (6) Ireland, (7) Luxembourg, (8) Curaçao, (9) Hong Kong, (10) Cyprus, (11) Bahamas, (12) Jersey, (13) Barbados, (14) Mauritius and (15) the British Virgin Islands. The UK does not feature on the list, but four territories that the United Kingdom is ultimately responsible for do appear: the Cayman Islands, Jersey, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
 

AGGRESSIVE POLICIES

 
The 15 countries earned their place on the ‘world’s worst’ list because they have adopted an aggressive set of policies which are helping big firms to minimise their tax bills, leaving those who can least afford it to pick up the tab. 
 
Oxfam researchers compiled the ‘world’s worst’ list by assessing the extent to which countries employ the most damaging tax policies, such as zero corporate tax rates, the provision of unfair and unproductive tax incentives, and a lack of cooperation with international processes against tax avoidance (including measures to increase financial transparency). 
 
Through loopholes, secrecy and driving unfair tax competition, tax havens are undermining the ability of poor countries to collect the cash they need to pay for health and education, vital to lifting people out of poverty. 
 
People here don’t want it to be this way – 82% told us earlier this year the Irish government should be tackling tax dodging and champion fair taxation. Ireland should take immediate action to curb corporate tax havens and their role in harmful tax competition by agreeing international tax haven criteria and a clear public list of where the tax havens are. Strong measures including sanctions should be adopted to limit profit shifting.
 
And people in Northern Ireland want the UK government to prioritise ending tax avoidance, with 89% telling us last month they are concerned when big firms don’t pay their fair share of tax, ordinary people pay the price. 
 

HOW TAX DODGING IMPACTS PEOPLE

 
This tax dodging is affecting ordinary tax payers like you and Kyohairewe, a coffee producer in Uganda. 
 
Kyohairewe pays her taxes – but tax dodging by big companies means there is not enough money for essential services and infrastructure spending in the country. Roads are in such bad condition that Kyohairewe struggles to bring her produce to her customers in the market, restricting her chances of earning a livelihood.
 
If people such as Kyohairewe (pictured below) have to pay a fair rate of tax, why shouldn’t wealthy big businesses and multi-national companies do the same? 
 
 
Above: Kyohairewe, a coffee producer in Uganda, pays her taxes – but tax dodging by big companies means the roads are such bad condition that she struggles to bring her produce to her customers. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
 
The UN estimates that tax dodging by multinationals costs poor countries at least $100 billion (approx. €92bn/£79bn) every year, with devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people. This money could ensure that the 124 million children currently not in school get an education and provide healthcare that could save the lives of six million children a year. Corporate tax revenue is doubly important as a proportion of total tax revenue in poor countries as in rich ones.
 

EVEN IT UP

 
That’s why your support for our Even It Up campaign is so important. We need to press governments and companies to make tax fair and transparent, so we can see what’s really going on. We need to close loopholes and make sure Ireland and the UK improve their tax policies and practices here, and support global plans to make tax fair. 
 
We need an end to the era of tax havens.
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