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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

Global Care Calculator: How the numbers are stacked against women and girls

Joanne O’Connor is Content Executive for Oxfam Ireland – here she recounts her eye-opening results from using the Global Care Calculator.

This week, our Time to Care inequality report made one thing clear: across the world, women and girls make our economies thrive but the vital care work they do often goes unrecognised and unrewarded. That they are responsible for more than three-quarters of unpaid work globally, clocking up a staggering 12.5 billion hours of unpaid work every day, came as a shock for many.

That surprised me. Don’t we all know women who work tirelessly in the home or juggle family life with a career or other responsibilities?

In countries where Oxfam works, the women who cook, clean and care for their family also walk for miles to collect basics like water and firewood. All this hard work goes unrewarded and can trap women and girls in a cycle of poverty. Pursuing an education or a paid job is a pipe dream.

Shop owner Arlene Cinco is a mother of four who also cares for her husband Eduardo, who suffered a stroke in 2016. Photo: Jed Regala/Oxfam

I know how lucky I am. I have a job which pays a salary. I don’t have to collect water from a contaminated stream or risk my safety while searching for firewood miles from home. But I do cook, clean and care for my family every day – and all those hours of unpaid care work add up.

In Ireland, women put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every week. If women received a living wage for this work, it would cost the State approximately €24 billion. On Monday, after Oxfam’s report was released, I decided to use the Global Care Calculator to calculate how much my care work is worth – how much my second job of caring for my family and all the housework that comes with it contributes. The figure was somewhere in the region of $63,000 a year – or almost €57,000 for about 5,700 hours’ work.

I was stunned. It had to be a mistake. So, I did it again and gave my answers more consideration. (Disclaimer: it’s difficult to quantify, as the calculator asks, how many hours you spend ‘caring for and organising activities for children or others who depend on you’ or providing ‘emotional support for people who depend on you’. It begs the question: is it possible to clock off once your child has gone to bed? Or does comforting your child after a 4am nightmare count as overtime?)

The second attempt would be more accurate, I decided. When the results came in, the total value of the ‘additional’ hours I worked was an even bigger eye-opener. This time, I ‘made’over $97,000 (over €87,000) for 8,840 hours.

The results of theGlobal Care Calculator

Now than I know the value of my unpaid work, I’ll be watching closely the upcoming Citizens’ Assembly which will discuss issues around care and gender inequality. In the run-up to the Assembly, Oxfam Ireland is calling for changes to social employment policies that support carers as well as proper scrutiny of the impact that economic and taxation polices have on women and girls. We want to see more paid shared parental leave or reforms to the pension system that would mean that women don’t miss out if they have to leave the work force to care for a loved one. Ireland desperately needs high-quality care services, resourced by care staff that are paid a living wage.

Otherwise, the notion of who cares wins remains the stuff of fiction.

Joanne O’Connor is the Content Executive for Oxfam Ireland.

Ireland's hidden engine: Recipe for inequality

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 may be better illustrated by the long and often dangerous daily walks to fetch water, the countless hours they spend caring for others, cooking and cleaning. All these invisible tasks traditionally belong to them but are neither counted nor valued.

On 20 January, Oxfam Ireland launched it’s annual inequality report Time to Care, highlighting the need to need to support care work, which is mostly undertaken by women, to tackle inequality.

Unequal man and woman
Melvin, a father of six and grocer in the Philippines, realised just how significant sharing care work can be after he saw its immediate changes in his own family. Photo: Jed Regala/Oxfam

Care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies turning. And it is driven by women and girls who, with little or no time to get an education, earn a decent living, be involved in their communities or have a say in how our societies are run, are trapped at the bottom of the economy.

Women and girls undertake more than three-quarters of unpaid care work in the world and make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce.

They carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. When valued at 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.

In Ireland

Like the global situation care work (paid and unpaid) in Ireland is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services (e.g. childcare, care for older people) by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market, if they can pay. 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 issue is also poorly integrated into social and economic policy deliberations. Ireland provides the least support to care work among the EU28. This sits uneasily with Ireland’s reputation as being a good place for families Thus, any cutbacks or delays in investment impact women disproportionately.

Ireland has the fifth largest number of billionaires in the world, relative to its population, the vast majority of which are men, while women in Ireland put in 38m 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% of the Irish economy.

Jim Clarken unpaid care work Ireland

Oxfam Ireland is asking the next Government to:

  • Implement the recommendations of the citizen’s assembly on gender equality related to care work. This will require significant extra investments in public services and social infrastructure. For example, increase investment in early years education to bring overall expenditure in line with the UNICEF recommendation of 1% of GDP.
  • Ensure care workers employed or funded by State programs are properly compensated to at least a living wage level.
  • Hold a referendum on Art. 41. 2 of the constitution to amend the language so it is gender neutral and recognises the value of care work in Irish society.
  • There is a need for integrated changes in social and employment policies that support carers, facilitate the combination of care and employment, while at the same time encourage greater male participation in care. For example, agree to more paid shared parental leave and more non-transferable paid parental leave for men. Reform the pension system to ensure that women don’t loss pension rights as a result of stepping out of the work force due to care responsibilities.
  • It should be a requirement of for all Government departments to  produce a equality budgeting impact statement on a statutory basis. Ireland needs to comprehensively   adopt   gender   budgeting   approaches   that   systematically   involve women’s organizations and civil society, to provide proper scrutiny of the impact of economic and taxation policies, as well as spending priorities, on women and girls.
  • The CSO should collect better data on the levels and distribution of unpaid care work on an ongoing basis and incorporate the contribution of unpaid care work into overall macroeconomic statistics. This will allow this currently hidden sector of the economy to be considered as part of future economic development planning.
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World’s 22 richest men have more wealth than all the women in Africa, new Oxfam report reveals

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all 325 million women in Africa, Oxfam revealed today ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos. A new report illustrates how inequality continues to be at crisis levels with wealth valued over work and the contribution of women under-rewarded.

The report – entitled Time to Care – sets out how the global economy fails to adequately reward those who carry out care work, a situation which exacerbates the gap between rich and poor. Extreme inequality is trapping millions of people in poverty around the world – although estimates of the wealth of the world’s poorest have been revised upwards this year, half the world’s population continue to live on less than £4.20-a-day (€5.00/$5.50) and women in particular get a raw deal.

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.

Women, especially those living in poverty, do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work. 42 per cent of women are outside the paid workforce because of unpaid care responsibilities compared to just six per cent of men. Countless more are paid poverty wages for care work.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “When 22 men have more wealth than all the women in Africa combined, it’s clear that our economy is sexist.

“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.

“If world leaders meeting this week are serious about reducing poverty and inequality, they urgently need to invest in care and other public services that make life easier for those with care responsibilities, and tackle discrimination holding back women and girls.”

Oxfam’s report highlights how care work is radically under-valued and taken for granted by governments and business. It is often treated as non-work, with spending on care viewed as a cost rather than an investment, leading to care being rendered invisible in measures of economic progress and policy agendas.

The pressure on carers, both unpaid and paid, is set to grow in the coming decade as the global population grows and ages. An estimated 2.3 billion people will be in need of care by 2030, an increase of 200 million since 2015.

The report also looks at governments’ role in fueling the inequality crisis, massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations and underfunding vital public services and infrastructure that could help reduce women and girls’ workload.

Investments in water and sanitation, electricity, childcare and public healthcare could free up women’s time and improve their quality of life. Oxfam research has shown that providing access to an improved water source could save African women significant time, for example in parts of Zimbabwe up to four hours of work a day, or two months a year.

Oxfam is urging governments to create fairer fiscal systems and crack down on tax loopholes to raise the revenue needed to invest in national care systems and public services that meet everyone’s needs, without relying on unpaid and underpaid work by women.

Getting the richest one per cent to pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years could raise enough money to create 117 million jobs, including 79 million in education, health and social care which would help close the current care gap.

ENDS

For a copy of the full report, summary, methodology or to arrange an interview, please contact Phillip Graham at phillip.graham@oxfam.orgor +44 (0) 7841 102535.

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

  • Full report available on request.
  • The report, methodology document explaining how Oxfam calculated the figures, and the data set is available on request.
  • The combined wealth figure of the 22 richest men in the world takes the wealth of the richest male billionaires from the Forbes’ 2019 Billionaires List and compares to the total wealth of all African women aged 20 and over, in line with Credit Suisse's dataset. The calculation is for all women, rich and poor, not just the poorest 50 per cent.
  • Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data. In 2018, Oxfam calculated that 26 people had the same wealth as the poorest half of the world. In 2019 this figure is 162. The difference in numbers is mainly due to improved Credit Suisse estimates which suggest that wealth held by the bottom 50 per cent is higher than previously thought. Using these new estimates, the revised figure for last year is therefore not 26 but 155. Billionaire wealth also fell in the period covered by Oxfam’s calculations but has since significantly recovered, Bloomberg have just shown how 500 people last year got over a trillion dollars richer. While estimates of overall wealth and the wealth share of the bottom 50 per cent fluctuate from one year to the next, the overall picture of incredible levels of wealth inequality remains shockingly high
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting the UK African Investment Summit in London today (Monday, 20 January 2020). Oxfam is calling for meaningful engagement during and after the summit with African and UK civil society, particularly women’s rights organisations, as such inputs are vital in designing investment that would create good quality, well paid jobs for women. It’s vital that companies investing in the region pay their fair share of taxes and not use tax havens as a conduit for their African investments, so that African governments can invest in services and national care systems which reduce the unpaid care burden for women.
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