Inequality

  • The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

Rohingya crisis: Support Fashion Relief and make a difference

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

There's more to Fashion Relief than bagging a bargain or spotting your favourite celeb - it can make a real difference to families bearing the brunt of war and climate change.

Shoppers at Fashion Relief events will be supporting the world's most vulnerable communities - they include thousands of Rohingya people forced to flee Myanmar when conflict broke out in 2017. Around 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, settling in Cox's Bazar. With 1 million people now calling it home, it is the world's largest refugee camp.

Lorraine Keane recently visited Bangladesh to see Oxfam's work on the ground for herself. So far, we've distributed vital aid including clean water and food to 360,000 people in Cox's Bazar.

Fashion Relief at Cox's Bazar | Oxfam Ireland

We’re helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials. We’ve recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help us reach others with hygiene information, we’ve built the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp on site and our solar-powered water network delivers safe water to families.

Oxfam staff hears Rohingya refugee opinions on new latrines
The women’s social architecture latrine user group talks to Iffat (Oxfam Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement) about their first experiences using the latrine and bathing facilities. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

We've also provided 25,000 refugee households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for fresh vegetables and ingredients. We’ve hired over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals to work on construction projects including road repairs, schools and water sources and provided almost 400 people with grants to start or expand their small businesses.

new Oxfam food voucher system for refugees
An efficient new e-voucher system enables refugees to make their purchase by simply scanning a card pre-charged with credit. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

To help women feel safer after dark, we’ve installed more than 350 solar-powered streetlights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns. We’ve also worked with women refugees to design more secure toilets and supplied them with fabric and vouchers so they can make or order clothes they feel more comfortable wearing in public.

Oxfam bought light to parts of Cox's Bazar
Oxfam has brought light to parts of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Sustainability in action

Fashion Relief is a key part of our work to increase sustainability across the fashion industry and support fair pay for garment workers. According to the UN, the textile industry generates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined!

That's no surprise when 225,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill in Ireland each year. That's 225,000 tonnes of clothes not getting a second chance at life.

On top of that, cheap production and plummeting prices means the items we buy often end up in landfill before they should, while garment workers survive on low wages and more often than not experience poor working conditions [Source: Irish Tech News].

Join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes you wear. We're proud to be a solution to "throwaway fashion" by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a longer life. We also work with retailers, encouraging them to donate their end-of-line or excess stock to us instead of sending it to landfill. That's a more sustainable solution for people and planet!

Tackle gender inequality by investing in care

When we think of gender inequality, our minds tend to leap to wage packets and glass ceilings. But for women and girls, the gender gap is evident in the countless hours they spend caring for others, as well as cooking and cleaning. These tasks are often invisible and undervalued.

Care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our global economies, businesses and societies turning – and it keeps women trapped on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Women and girls carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. If they were paid the minimum wage, this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year  more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

domestic worker lives in inequality and takes care of a baby
Elizabeth Wayua, 31 and a domestic worker, tends to the baby of her employer in Kenya. Many domestic workers are paid nowhere near the national minimum wage, perpetuating inequality. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

In Ireland, the provision of care services (for example, childcare and care for older people) by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to pay someone else to do the work – if they can afford it. The levels of support for combining paid and unpaid work are still well behind the EU average, while State supports for those who wish to receive care in their own home are limited. This sits uneasily with Ireland’s reputation as being a good place to raise a family. Meanwhile, any cutbacks or delays in investment impact women disproportionately.

Women in Ireland put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every weekadding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year. This is equivalent to 12.3 percent of the Irish economy.

 

Oxfam Ireland is asking the next government to:

  • Implement the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality related to care work. This will mean investing more in public services and social infrastructure.
  • Ensure care workers employed or funded by the State are paid at least a living wage.
  • Hold a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution to amend the language so it is gender neutral and recognises the value of care work in Irish society.
  • Allow people who care for loved ones to be employed as carers and encourage more men to participate.
  • Make all government departments report on the impact that economic and taxation policies and spending priorities have on women and girls.
  • Ensure that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) collects better data on the levels of unpaid care work. Incorporate the contribution of unpaid care work into the CSO’s economic statistics.

The global corporate tax system: Why should developing countries pay the price?

It’s impossible to tackle global poverty and inequality while corporate tax avoidance continues to drain vital revenue from low-income countries. While Ireland has gone some way to address the issue, the reforms haven’t gone far enough. There is clear and growing evidence that the State is still facilitating large-scale tax avoidance, with Oxfam’s recent Off the Hook report providing evidence of high levels of unusual payments which indicate corporate tax avoidance.

factory garment workers underpaid
Line-workers make trousers and jackets for international brands at a garment factory in Vietnam. They earn extremely little wages. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Corporate tax avoidance undermines efforts to tackle global poverty. The UN estimates that developing countries lose around $100 billion due to corporate tax avoidance every year, depriving them of vital revenue for services like health and education that lift people out of poverty. What’s also becoming clear is how tax avoidance and evasion negatively affect women’s rights and are detrimental to closing the gender inequality gap.

Efforts to reform the global tax system are now taking place at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – these reforms are essential to finance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to create a better and more sustainable future for everyone. With corporate tax essential for raising revenue in developing countries, Ireland needs to engage with the OECD’s reform process and ensure that the world’s poorest countries no longer have to pay the price for an outdated global tax system.

Oxfam Ireland is calling on the next government to:

  • Support the reform of corporate income tax to rebalance tax rights between developed and developing countries.
  • Agree a global minimum effective tax rate at a fair level.
  • Ensure that all multinational companies (MNCs) are more transparent in how they operate and report on their activities at an EU level.
  • Review and reform Ireland’s Double Taxation Treaties – an agreement between two countries that reduces the tax bill for someone who is resident of one country but has citizenship in another. The agreement aims to prevent the taxpayer from paying tax to both countries.

Our next government must think outside the ballot box

As 8th February fast approaches, it’s almost crunch time in this snap general election. Ireland’s election cycles are short, but five years can make a big difference in times of massive change.

We want to see Ireland tackle the most important issues of our time, like climate change, gender inequality and tax justice – issues that affect all of us, not just in Ireland, but around the world. If this country leads the way, others will follow. Yet this kind of leadership requires politicians who think outside the box – way beyond the ballot box and the next election cycle. With the global community lurching from one crisis to the next, short-sighted policies are no longer an option from the political leaders of any country.

Oxfam climate march
Oxfam staff at the COP25 climate march in Spain in 2019. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

As an island nation with a huge potential to harness the power of renewable energy, Ireland could show the kind of leadership the world really needs. We want the next government to take faster, fairer action in tackling climate change and supporting poorer countries already experiencing extreme weather events. Drought and floods have wreaked havoc on the communities we work with, destroying livelihoods and the chance for families to have a brighter future. Wealthier nations like Ireland must now step up and take responsibility for our emissions.

We need to live more sustainably so developing the circular economy, which eliminates waste and the continual use of resources, would be a win-win for both the environment and our climate. It would help tackle big polluters like the textile industry, which soaks up vast quantities of water – our most precious resource – every day and creates a throwaway society where millions of tonnes of clothes are dumped in landfill every year. We’re calling on the next government to incentivise the circular economy by slashing VAT for services that extend the lifetime of products and creating a waste prevention plan for the textiles industry.

We also want the new government to address economic inequality and the care economy, which mostly affects women and girls. Right now, the world’s 2,153 billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people worldwide. While poverty rates fell in the last two decades, recent evidence suggests that the pace of poverty reduction has actually slowed down.  And Ireland is mirroring this global trend when it comes to wealth inequality – we have the fifth largest number of billionaires per capita in the world!

One way that our upside-down economic system deepens inequality is by chronically undervaluing care work – usually done by women, who are often left little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and are therefore trapped in poverty. Across the world, women and girls are putting in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, such as looking after children and the elderly, which amounts to a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year – more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

In Ireland alone, women spend 38 million hours a week carrying out unpaid care work, adding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year. We’re asking the next government to value and invest in our care system to find real solutions to the disproportionate impact unpaid care work has on Irish women.

To tackle inequality head on, we’re encouraging the next government to help overhaul the global corporate tax system. By not paying its way, big business deprives poorer nations of vital funds that could be spent on services like health and education. While Ireland has made some efforts to tackle tax avoidance, it hasn’t gone far enough. We want multi-national companies to be more transparent in how they operate and to report on their activities at an EU level. Profits should not be shifted away from the countries they were generated – otherwise, the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow.

 

To tackle all these issues, we want the next government to:

  • Implement faster, fairer climate action to meet Ireland's commitments to address the climate emergency and support poorer countries to cope with climate change
  • Support sustainability through developing the circular economy
  • Invest in our care system to help address gender inequality
  • Support a fundamental reform of the global corporate tax system

Our Asks to the Public - General Election 2020

10 brilliant questions you asked about Oxfam’s inequality report

Oxfam’s new inequality report, which reveals that the world’s billionaires — just 2,153 people — have more wealth than 4.6 billion people, is making headlines across the globe. Since we launched our report, we have received lots of interesting questions. Here’s our response to ten of the most frequently asked questions.

woman in poverty is underpaid domestic worker
Clarice is proud to be a domestic worker but was frustrated and angry at the bad treatment by employers. Clarice is now an active member of a group that supports each other and improves their community. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

1. What does women’s unpaid care work have to do with billionaires? How is it their fault?

Women and girls together put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day and countless more for poverty wages. Care work is what makes all other work possible —without it the economy and the businesses of billionaires wouldn’t be able to function.

Yet billionaires and the corporations they run are not paying their fair share of tax and are depriving governments of revenue that could be invested in public services and infrastructure that could help free up women’s time and help put an end to poverty and inequality. Oxfam estimates that getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next ten years could fund investments needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health.

2. Is Oxfam suggesting that women should be paid to take care of their own children and cook their own meals?

No. We’re pointing out that women do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work and this is trapping them in poverty.

We are calling on governments to lift the responsibility of care from women by investing in infrastructure and public services — paid for by fairer tax systems. For example, providing access to improved water sources could save women in parts of Zimbabwe up to four hours of work per day, or two months a year.

And we are asking governments and companies to help challenge the attitudes and practices that prevent care work from being shared more equally between men and women. For example:

  • Policies — Policies like paid parental or family leave and flexible work arrangements enable employees to manage care responsibilities. Providing childcare can help women enter the workforce, take on more hours or pursue the career they really want (and even reduce the gender pay gap!).
  • Advertising — Advertising can be used to encourage men and boys to take on a more equal share of unpaid care work. For example, McCain Foods’ We Are Family campaign shows that it is normal for all family members, including fathers and grandfathers, to do unpaid care work.
  • Laws — The UK Government has introduced a landmark ban on advertisements that portray gender stereotypes likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence. 

Check out Oxfam’s Care Calculator to work out much how much the care work you do is worth.

3. The fact women do more unpaid care work than men is a cultural problem — it has nothing to do with government policy.

It has everything to do with government policy! If governments ensured the richest people and corporations were fairly taxed and invested this money in vital public services and basic infrastructure such as water and energy systems, they could help lift the responsibility of care from women.

Governments and companies can also help challenge negative stereotypes such as the belief that women are ‘naturally’ better carers or that housework is ‘women’s work.’ Uruguay’s Care Act, introduced in 2016, is celebrated as a model for the future of care — it has boosted care services for children, people with disabilities and the elderly while breaking down gender stereotypes.

4. Isn’t capitalism working? The global economy is growing, and poverty is declining.

A healthy market economy is key to tackling poverty and inequality, but we don’t have that. We have an extreme form of capitalism that only works for those at the top.

The number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day) has fallen globally, which is to be celebrated. However, the rate at which extreme poverty is being reduced has halved since 2013 and in some parts of the world the number of people living in extreme poverty is actually rising. Almost half of humanity is still living on less than $5.50 a day. They are not living in extreme poverty, but they are still very poor — struggling to keep their heads above water and just one medical bill or failed harvest away from extreme poverty.

The problem is that the benefits of economic growth are not shared equally. Wealth is captured by the wealthy, and the poorest in society see little benefit. That is why Oxfam is calling for governments to build more human economies that work for everyone and not just a privileged few.

5. Aren’t low taxes a good thing? They stimulate economic growth and job creation — benefiting society as a whole?

The idea that low taxes for the richest are good for economic growth and job creation has been widely questioned. Even the International Monetary Fund and The Economist in the UK say there is scope to tax the richest without hurting economic development —and that such a redistribution is needed to tackle poverty and inequality.

A strong economy depends on an educated and healthy workforce, good transportation connections, a strong communications network, and the rule of law —all these things are paid for with our taxes. That is why it is essential that everyone in society pay their fair share.

Time to Care: Let's #FightInequality

6. Increasing taxes on the wealthy alone won’t be enough, and even if you manage to do it, it doesn’t mean the money will be spent well by governments.

Fairly taxing wealth and simultaneously cracking down on tax havens and loopholes that allow corporations and the super-rich to dodge taxes are important ways in which countries can raise additional funds. Many countries need to raise additional funds so that they can increase investment in public services and infrastructure like water or electricity — and it’s hard to think of a country where additional revenue would not make a difference.

That said, there is no guarantee that increased tax revenues will be spent tackling poverty and inequality. This is partly because inequality is undermining our democracies — as governments put the demands of powerful corporations and the super-rich over the needs of their own citizens.

Transparency and accountability are critical. Oxfam is working with others around the globe to hold governments to account for how they spend public funds. In Kenya, the National Taxpayers Association uses scorecards to help communities follow money flows, monitor the quality of public services and hold their public officials accountable.

7. What are wealth taxes, and don’t they mean bigger tax bills for ordinary people? Aren’t people taxed enough?

Not everyone is taxed enough! Many super-rich individuals agree. The richest in society are being massively undertaxed and are paying lower rates of tax now than they have in decades. Only 4 percent of tax revenue collected globally comes from taxes on wealth.

Wealth taxes are levied on wealth or the income derived from wealth. They include property tax and inheritance tax. If properly structured, these taxes would be paid by only the very richest in society —and are an important way of ensuring the wealthy pay a fair share of tax. For example, Colombia introduced a wealth tax in 2015 on all those with wealth over one billion Colombian pesos, or $315,000.

8. Poverty is decreasing so why all the fuss about inequality? Inequality doesn’t fuel poverty.

Inequality is trapping people in poverty. The World Bank has been clear that unless we close the gap between rich and poor, hundreds of millions of people will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030

Women and girls are often amongst the most disadvantaged because poverty is sexist. 

In a poor rural area of Pakistan, girls are three times more likely than poor boys to miss out on an education. Pulled out of school before their brothers, often because of unequal care responsibilities, millions of the world’s poorest girls are deprived of the opportunities that a decent education can bring.

By closing the gap between rich and poor — more fairly taxing wealth and investing this money in public services like education, healthcare and childcare — governments can ensure no child misses out on a better future simply because they are poor.

9. Oxfam’s calculations are wrong —the data has holes in it and the way wealth is calculated means graduates with large debts but the potential to earn a good salary are counted amongst the worlds poorest.

It is true to say that the way wealth is calculated means people who are high earners with large debts — such as graduates with big loans — are placed in the same category as people who are very poor. However, this is the case for such a tiny fraction of people, it has little impact on the figures. The vast majority of people at the bottom of the economy are very poor people who are really struggling to get by. Those who are in debt are, overwhelmingly, poor people who are forced to borrow to stay afloat — think of single mothers having to borrow money at exorbitant rates to pay medical bills in the United States, or smallholder farmers in India borrowing at huge interest from money lenders in order to buy seeds or tools.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available — the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s annual Global Wealth Databook and Forbes’ 2019 Billionaires List. However, no data set or methodology is ever 100 percent perfect and figures may change slightly from year to year as new and better data becomes available. However, over the long term the data clearly shows that the gap between rich and poor is out of control. The world’s billionaires, an ultra-rich elite of 2,153 people, have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. Our economy is broken — we need to fix it.

10. The changes in wealth that Oxfam highlights are not real changes in wealth —but are more to do with changes in the availability of data or the assumptions of researchers.

Data on wealth inequality can change considerably from one year to the next and can lead to significant variations in the statistics on wealth inequality. For example, if China — home to a billion people — issues a new report on wealth, it can make a major difference to the figures from one year to the next. However, over the long term, the data clearly shows that inequality has risen dramatically in the majority of rich countries over the past 30 years and is very high in the majority of developing countries.

What You Can Do Now

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