Oxfam shifting development focus from poverty to inequality

Launching its ‘Even It Up’ report in Bangkok, Oxfam UK has identified inequality as the largest obstacle to sustainable and equitable economic growth in Asia and globally.

While Asia has made great strides in poverty reduction, its economic growth conceals increasing inequality in the region. Although the perception is that all growth is positive, Oxfam’s report documents pervasive economic inequality interacts and is exacerbated by other inequalities of gender, race, ethnicity or caste.

The Even It Up campaign is another inflection point in the evolution of the global development agenda, in which the fight against poverty has now been eclipsed by challenges inherent to Asia’s socio-economic frameworks.

Reporting that seven out of 10 people lived in countries where economic inequality was worse in 2013 than 30 years ago,Oxfam has called for wider support to tackle the issues and break the cycle of inequality in order to genuinely fight poverty and ensure inclusive and sustainable development.

“Governments, institutions and corporations have a responsibility to tackle extreme inequality. They must address the factors that have led to today’s inequality explosion, and implement policies that redistribute money and power from the few to the many.”

However, Oxfam is not seeking partnerships in support of this campaign. It is instead encouraging corporations and institutions to pledge their support and work independently.

These pledges are not owned or managed by Oxfam, but are the sole responsibility of those who have made them.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Pichai Sonchaeng, Minister to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, iterated the government’s awareness of rising inequality within Thai society and the need to address the issues.

“It is only by partnership, collaboration and application that we can work together to, as Oxfam says, ‘Even It Up’.

Dr Pichai was speaking alongside representatives from the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, Beiersdorf Asia and the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) organisation.

Representing the Bangladesh Ministry of Information, Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, reiterated the government’s commitment to passing the 2014 Anti-Discrimination Act and the government’s ongoing support for SMEs, healthcare, education and social programmes.

Bangladesh currently spends about 13% of the national budget on its Social Protection and Social Empowerment Programmes (ten and three percent, respectively) and has made substantive progress in providing state-backed education and healthcare relative to its neighbours.

Nepal also pledged its support to protect the equality of women and to ensure good governance and effective implementation of policies and programmes.

Beiersdorf Asia is the first corporate to pledge its support to the campaign, pledging to double the size of its Blue Library Programme that aims to improve children’s reading skills and tackle an important societal need.

Beiersdorf will open 6 more Blue Libraries in Vietnam by the end of 2017, providing free access to books, learning and language skills to almost 4,000 children through eight facilities. The programme has also been rolled out in Myanmar and the first two libraries will open in 2015, Suwannee Sritonyachote, Beiersdorf’s Managing Director South East Asia confirmed.

Oxfam has identified nine key policy and practice that governments, institutions and corporations should implement or support that facilitate the equitable distribution of resources:

1) Make governments work for citizens and tackle extreme inequality
2) Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights
3) Pay workers a living wage and close the gap with skyrocketing executive reward
4) Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field
5) Close international tax loopholes and fill holes in tax governance
6) Achieve universal free public services by 2020
7) Change the global system for research and development (R&D) and pricing of medicines so everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines
8) Implement a universal social protection floor
9) Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty, and strengthening the compact between citizens and their government

Oxfam has further outlined five pillars to tackle inequality in Asia:

1) People empowerment: Ensure that poor people, especially women and marginalised groups, actively participate in shaping institutions, policies and actions, so that these do not further widen the gap between rich and poor.
2) Fair access to essential services: Provide everyone with good quality, free public health services and education.
3) Fair access to land and other productive resources: Strengthen poor people‟s right to land, and expand their access to resources and assets that are crucial to their livelihood and survival.
4) Fair wages: Guarantee equal pay for equal work, and pay workers a living wage sufficient for families to thrive.
5) Fair taxation: Ensure that everyone pays their fair share and that tax measures do not unduly burden the poorer sections of society.

Its new campaign has been launched as the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals timeframe and calls for a post-2015 goal to eradicate extreme inequality by 2030.

Oxfam’s full 140 page report can be downloaded here.