New Government must tackle global inequalities made worse by COVID-19

New Government must tackle global inequalities made worse by COVID-19

Oxfam calls for ambitious and collective action at home and overseas to address poverty, hunger and the climate crisis


The next Irish Government must prioritise tackling the glaring global inequalities that COVID-19 has further exposed and ending the injustices driving poverty, hunger and the climate crisis, Oxfam Ireland said today on the launch of its programme for government briefing.

In Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the new Irish Government and Oireachtas, Oxfam laid out an ambitious call for decisive and collective action to create a fairer and more sustainable world that leaves no-one behind, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has proved our global interconnectedness and that things can be done differently.

As Ireland eases restrictions and begins to plan for the future, Oxfam warned that for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the devastating impact of COVID-19 will continue long after the threat of the virus is gone. Responding to New Global Realities calls for leadership at an international level to address the economic fallout of COVID-19 that could push half a billion more people into poverty and decimate already inadequate social protection infrastructure and essential services like healthcare

Oxfam’s agenda outlines action needed by the next Irish Government across three main points:

  1. Resource Poor Countries' development needs in a changed world
  2. support system change in healthcare, food production and protection of the vulnerable
  3. build a more sustainable and just world

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold human rights and environmental protection. In many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. COVID-19 may well seem like a more imminent threat to our lives – but if we do not start to take serious action to address the climate crisis it will quickly pose as great and imminent a threat to our existence – as it already does for many of the communities we work with.

“There has never been a more important time to stand with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. As we look to the future with hope, they brace themselves for the worst yet to come. Countries across the world are experiencing a major economic hit as governments shut down economies to prevent the spread of the disease. Those who rely on informal work have said this pandemic threatens to starve them before it makes them sick. Women and girls stand to be the hardest hit as they’re at the forefront of the informal work sector as well as on the frontlines of the healthcare profession and caring roles.

“This crisis also risks food value chains, causing immediate concerns for food security in developing countries with the UN warning of famines of “biblical proportions”. Protecting food security and implementing policies and support programmes that promote agricultural development must be supported, while taking into account the challenges of climate breakdown.

“Ireland has made a strong contribution to the international response to COVID-19 – in particular to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan, as well ongoing humanitarian support through Irish Aid. However, the scale and complexity of this crisis is unprecedented. We must seize this moment to repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place. This means putting equality at the centre of development in order to help the world recover from the crisis.”

Oxfam is also calling for a number of measures in Ireland, including reform of the Irish care system. Care work (paid and unpaid) in Ireland and around the world is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services - childcare, care for the elderly or people with special needs - by the Irish State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market - if they can pay. This issue has become even more acute due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition, they call for priority to be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis, saying that bailouts of big corporations should be conditional on measures to uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and to build a sustainable future.

Recognising that Ireland has made some reforms to address corporate tax avoidance, Oxfam say these haven’t gone far enough to address the scale of tax avoidance that is facilitated by Ireland’s current corporate tax regime.

Clarken concluded: “As in the last the financial crisis, the choices currently being made in the short-term at EU level will determine the policy choices open to the Irish Government in the aftermath of the pandemic. The new Irish Government should advocate for development of a monitoring mechanism to ensure any new resources allocated to tackle COVID-19 benefit the most vulnerable parts of the economy.

“The pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping our economies and societies functioning. It has also shown the incredible power of solidarity and collective action - we can rebuild a better world. Ireland now has an opportunity to fulfil its ambition to increase its international influence as set out in Global Ireland and A Better World.

“A better future must be guided by universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and on the principle of leaving no-one behind. The time is now for Ireland to cement its place as a world leader for progressive change.”

Download Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the new Irish Government and Oireachtas (EXECUTIVE SUMMARY) here.

Download Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the new Irish Government and Oireachtas (FULL BRIEFING) here.


CONTACT: For interviews or for more information, please contact:

Caroline Reid | | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to the Editor:

Oxfam Ireland's three-point plan:

Resource low-income countries’ development needs in a changed world  

  • Achieve cross-party support for a realistic published road map on overseas development aid (ODA) that will show a genuine commitment towards reaching 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income in line with our international commitments. 
  • At a minimum maintain, and preferably increase, our existing aid investment as recommended by the OECD’s DAC review in the short term and ensure that NGOs have effective and timely access to that funding both nationally and internationally.   
  • Support the cancellation of all developing country debts due to be paid in 2020 and 2021 and ensure that new emergency funding is provided by means of grants not loans. 
  • Ensure that EU adequately responds to the short and long-term development needs of poorer countries, including ensuring that the level of resources under Heading VI (“Neighbourhood & the World”) is maintained at no less than ten per cent of the overall Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in the EU. 
  • Support initiatives aimed at creating additional finance flows including the issuing of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as once off global stimulus. 
  • Maintain Ireland’s commitment to development effectiveness by implementing the recommendations of the OECD DAC review of Ireland’s ODA programme in full.

Support system change in healthcare, food production and protection of the vulnerable

  • Support the development of an effective Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response to tackle COVID-19 head on, including scaling up investments in public health promotion and communication, community engagement and education, and in access to water and sanitation, especially handwashing, as well as free testing for all. Advocate for and support the recruitment of ten million health workers. 
  • Ensure Ireland’s ODA supports the move to universal public healthcare in low-income countries to help ensure that everyone has access to healthcare and that humanity is prepared for future outbreaks.  
  • Advocate for the development of a global agreement that vaccines and treatments, when approved for use, will be a global public good, available to all who need it free of charge and that rich countries will provide enough funding to make it available rapidly to the whole of humanity. 
  • Maintain and increase Ireland’s ODA support for agriculture and food security, while promoting the functioning of food supply chains, with a view to strengthening food security and resilience against shocks in the short and medium term, especially due to climate breakdown. 
  • Support efforts to implement a global ceasefire in armed conflicts that lay the foundation for long-term peace in the future. 
  • Ensure that both ODA monies and diplomatic missions are used to promote fundamental freedoms and strengthen civic and political space, ensuring measures needed for the pandemic control are proportionate, time-bound and non-discriminatory.  
  • Recognise the crucial roles that women and women-led organisations will play in delivering the response to the COVID- 19 crisis and to development work in general and work in partnership with them.  
  • Support and protect vulnerable populations, especially migrants and refugees, including by amending the overly restrictive nature of Ireland’s current family reunification legislation and fulfilling our commitment to bring unaccompanied minors being held on the Greek Islands to safety in Ireland. 

Build a more sustainable and just world

  • Reform the ‘care system’. 
  • Bail out businesses responsibly. Priority must be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis. Any public support for large corporations should be conditional on measures that uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and build a sustainable future.   
  • Support the EC COVID-19 Rescue Package.  
  • Reform the corporate tax system. 
  • Pass mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation in Ireland and support the efforts to pass such legislation at the EU level. 
  • Reform the EU macroeconomic framework. 
  • Implement faster and fair climate action as set out by the One Future Campaign, including reducing Ireland’s greenhouse emissions by eight per cent a year in line with Ireland’s Paris Agreement commitment. 
  • Help poorer countries to cope with the climate emergency by reaching the target of spending 20 per cent of ODA on climate finance by 2025. Increased ODA spending on climate finance should receive an additional budgetary allocation rather than being diverted from the existing ODA budget. 
  • Support the development of the Circular Economy as set out in the government’s Climate Action Plan.
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