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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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As winter settles in, refugees from Syria face increasing hardship

Hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping the ongoing conflict in Syria face another winter of dreadful conditions in Lebanon and Jordan.

Above, left: A Syrian boy stands in front of his family’s flooded tent in a settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As the first winter storm hit the country, thousands of refugees have little means to face the harsh weather. They urgently need warm blankets, stoves, and fuel. Above-right: Syrian refugees inspect the damage inflicted by the first winter storm to their settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Tents were flooded and the agricultural land on which the camp is set up turned into muddy pools. Photos: Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

It is nearly 5 years since the start of the conflict in Syria, and an unprecedented human tragedy continues to unfold on an unimaginable scale.

After being forced to flee horrors which they would never have imagined, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria have seen another winter descend on the Middle East – for some this is their fifth away from home in increasingly difficult living conditions.

Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which hosts the majority of refugees in this small country, is already shrouded in white, while nights in Jordan’s camps are extremely cold with temperatures dropping to zero. Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in camps and improvised shelters are particularly vulnerable to these conditions.

Above: Children in Zaatari – the refugee camp’s transition into a town is presenting huge challenges as the need for infrastructure and access to jobs grows. Photo: Tom White/PA
 

Asma Qasim, a refugee in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari camp which hosts about 80,000 people, said: “It’s hard enough to be far from home and our family. I have been living in Zaatari with my husband and three children since 2013. Winter used to be my favourite time of the year until I got here. We can’t sleep most nights because water leaks in and makes everything wet. I am very worried for my children. I think of going back to Syria every day.”

It is not unusual for Zaatari, set in Jordan’s Northern desert area, to witness snowfall, strong winds and freezing rain. Oxfam is helping families to dig drainage channels around their households, to ensure they do not flood.

Oxfam teams are also going door-to-door, informing refugees of ways to keep safe and dry. In case of heavy rains, flooding or snow melt, Oxfam’s Zaatari team has a contingency plan that includes installing additional emergency water tanks, and helping refugees whose homes are damaged to reach communal shelters. We have also mapped flood-prone areas to guide our teams when they reach out to the most vulnerable in the camp.

Outside the camp, we are helping about 1,000 vulnerable families (70% of them refugees, the others Jordanian) by providing relief items such as heaters, gas cylinders, warm blankets and cash to pay for gas refills.

In Lebanon, Oxfam is providing cash transfers through ATM cards to hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Syria. About 450 families will receive a total of US$400 for the winter months in North Lebanon, which will enable them to buy much-needed heating fuel, tools for improving their shelter, and other items, such as blankets, children’s clothing, and stoves. They could also spend this cash on rent, as they all pay to have a roof over their heads.

Above: New lives: Syrian refugee children outside an Oxfam facility in the Zaatari camp, where Oxfam is campaigning for a permanent water and sewage system. Photo: Tom White/PA

In both countries, refugees have seen their resources dwindle as the conflict in Syria drags on. With little or no access to work opportunities, they are forced to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

The Syria crisis is an unprecedented human and humanitarian tragedy. It is time we ask for accountability from world leaders to take action and solve this together.

If you can, please help by donating to Oxfam Ireland’s Syria Crisis Appeal.

In Jordan Oxfam works in both Zaatari refugee camp and in Jordanian communities that are hosting Syrian refugees. Zaatari camp is now the fourth biggest city in Jordan, housing around 80,000 Syrian refugees. Oxfam currently works in three of Zaatari’s 12 districts, supervising water and sanitation, and also co-ordinating hygiene promotion activities. In addition, together with UNICEF and other international actors, Oxfam is installing a water network in the camp, which will ensure refugees have safe access to water.

Above: Born on the run: baby Sham is just a few hours old, the youngest resident of Zaatari, the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan which has become a semi-permanent city for its residents. Photo: Tom White/PA

To date, Oxfam’s response has included:

  • Building 50 water, sanitation and hygiene blocks, including 318 toilets, 288 bathing areas, 72 laundry areas, and 100 water points, serving up to 15,600 people.
  • Maintaining 120 water, sanitation and hygiene blocks in 3 districts benefitting around 25,000 people.
  • Installing 270 portable latrines as a temporary measure.
  • Distributing 75 commodes for disabled users.
  • Provided 19 x 95,000 litre and 378 x 2,000 litre water tanks.
  • Installed 10 hand-washing facilities in the market area.

Syria Crisis: Winter in Zaatari

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A year in pictures: the impact you helped make happen in 2015

It’s been a busy year! 2015 saw considerable global challenges – such as the Nepal earthquake, rising global inequality, conflict in South Sudan and Syria and the refugee crisis, among others.

It was also a year of momentous achievements – world leaders committing to 17 Sustainable Development Goals designed to end extreme poverty by 2030, and an historic if imperfect global climate deal at the COP climate talks in Paris.

Thanks to the inspirational support of our donors, campaigners, supporters, volunteers and staff, Oxfam’s programmes during the past 12 months helped a record 25 million lives around the globe, through our emergency responses, development projects and campaigning.

So to review the year, we wanted to share just a small selection of photos which illustrate how your support helped Oxfam make an incredible difference during 2015.

Vanuata was left devastated by Cyclone Pam in March 2015. Pictured here is Marie-Lea with a voucher from Oxfam. We have been assisting families affected by Cyclone Pam by distributing vouchers to be exchanged for farming items, building materials, and other general goods. The aim is to help them rebuild their livelihoods and grow food. Photo: Adrian Lloyd/Oxfam

A man in Kathmandu, Nepal washes his face at an Oxfam tap stand in the Tundikhel camp for people displaced by the earthquake in April 2015. We have delivered essential aid – including emergency shelters, hygiene kits, clean water and sanitation facilities – to more than 445,000 people affected by the quake. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

All summer, we brought our Even it Up campaign around Ireland, north and south, and 25,000 people backed our call for action on inequality. We highlighted that just 80 people – few enough to fit on our double decker bus – have the same wealth as half the world’s population and urged world leaders, including the Irish and UK governments, to tackle the root causes of inequality. Photo: Press Eye

August 2015: Female Food Heroes, the Oxfam-supported initiative in Tanzania, continues to empower female farmers through its accompanying reality TV show. The programme highlights the vital role played by women in lifting communities out of poverty, as participants compete in farming tasks and learning about leadership, women's rights and finance management. The show attracts 21 million viewers – approximately half the population of Tanzania. Pictured is participant Edna Kiogwe, tackling a task during filming. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam

Children participate in a lesson about hygiene at an Oxfam community centre in Zaatari camp, Jordan, in September 2015. By providing drinking water, toilets and showers, community centres, hygiene promotion and waste collection, we support some 25,000 of Zaatari’s 80,000 residents displaced by the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Oxfam has so far reached more than 1.6 million people in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with life-saving clean water and sanitation. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The public showed their compassion for the plight of people fleeing conflict and poverty and urged governments to make ‘Refugees Welcome’ – here standing up and being counted on Sandymount Strand, Dublin, in September at an event organised by a coalition of Irish NGOs. The Irish and UK Governments committed to opening their borders to more vulnerable refugees. We are supporting asylum seekers who have arrived in Serbia and Greece, as well as in Italy. Photo: Steve Kingston

Pictured in November 2015 is Zewudie Dagnew with her son Ashenafi Aragaw in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, where Oxfam’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative is helping farmers increase their resilience to challenges like drought. Farmers there speak of how weather patterns have changed over time and how the rains that feed their crops are coming later than they used to and departing sooner. Photo: Coco McCabe/Oxfam

Megacone perform on the Oxjam stage at Electric Picnic 2015. As well as organising events and campaigning at summer festivals, Oxfam Ireland called on music fans across the island to put on their own pop-up events as part of the Oxjam Gigmaker campaign. Photo: Olga Kuzmenko.

Oxfam aid worker Amy Christian talks to refugees from Afghanistan as they wait outside a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Preševo, southern Serbia in October 2015. We are working in Serbia to help some of the thousands fleeing to safety, providing clean water, toilets and showers. In Greece we are providing hot meals and winter kits, while in Italy support includes housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam.

“Clean water – thank you Oxfam!” Brian collects water from an Oxfam water tap in Lologo, Juba, South Sudan. Since conflict broke out in December 2013, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives and 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes. We are currently supporting 690,000 people with humanitarian assistance, including clean water, hygiene facilities, food, fuel and income support. Photo: Fred Perraut/Oxfam

We are one of 17 Oxfams working for change in more than 90 countries – these pictures represent just a few of our projects in Tanzania, Nepal, Jordan, South Sudan, Vanuatu and Ethiopia.

None of the work we do could happen without your support. You helped save lives and rebuild livelihoods after natural disaster struck Nepal. You showed generosity and compassion to those affected by the fighting in Syria. You gave a voice to those affected by the migrant crisis and forced our governments to strengthen their responses. You pushed businesses and institutions to reform practices that reinforce inequality.

You shopped with us in our 49 shops throughout Ireland. You danced with us at Oxjam 2015. You hosted your own events to raise awareness and funds. You donated to our fundraising efforts, including our Oxfam Unwrapped campaign. You supported our Even it Up campaign, to tackle the root causes of inequality.

You are making a difference – thank you! We look forward to your continued support in 2016 so that we can secure further progress towards our vision of a just world without poverty.

On behalf of Oxfam, Happy New Year!

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