Comment: Key steps in making poverty history

Oxfam's new analysis shows that just 62 people now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. Picture: AP

Oxfam's new analysis shows that just 62 people now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. Picture: AP

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CONCERTED action at home and abroad this year could deliver momentous change, writes Jamie Livingstone

In the fight against poverty, 2015 has the potential to be a turning point.

In September, 193 countries adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Having halved extreme poverty in just 15 years, the goals could help us end it for good in the next 15.

However, the Goals will only be delivered if they spark new and better decisions at national level including measures to narrow the gap between the richest and the poorest.

As the world’s financial and political elites gather again in Davos this week, Oxfam’s new analysis shows that just 62 people now own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. This figure has fallen from 388 just five years ago.

Despite world leaders talking about the need to tackle inequality – with an explicit goal to do so embedded within the SDGs – this has so far failed to translate into concrete action.

Oxfam is calling for urgent intervention – including an end to tax havens – to tackle the extreme inequality crisis which threatens to undermine the progress made in tackling poverty.

It can be easy to see inequality simply as a global issue. Yet in Scotland nearly one in five people live in poverty despite the total wealth of Scottish households topping £700 billion.

The co-existence of huge wealth alongside enduring poverty, exemplified by the increasing numbers forced to turn to emergency food support, cannot continue.

However, again, 2015 has created a spring-board for progress.

Not only did Scotland commit to delivering the SDGs – including the commitment to leave no-one behind – but reducing inequality now sits at the heart of the Economic Strategy.

Encouragingly, this focus on reducing inequality is shared across the political spectrum and the Scottish elections in May are a critical opportunity for all parties to commit to substantive policy change.

In October, we outlined measures we believe the Scottish Parliament should take to help reduce inequality, and we must build on another achievement of 2015 at global level: the climate deal agreed in Paris.

We know from our international work that climate change makes the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly women, even harder.

Right now, a super el Niño threatens to put yet more strain on humanity. Global warming makes strong el Niños more likely. Without early action, it could leave tens of millions of people facing hunger, water shortages and disease.

Oxfam worked hard as part of a global movement to put pressure on leaders in Paris and we were proud to march alongside thousands of others at Scotland’s Climate March.

The frayed lifeline the deal has thrown to the entire world will need to be strengthened.

So while Scotland’s commitment to increase the Climate Justice Fund is welcome, we know such funding must continue to rise. All parties must also fulfil Scotland’s emission reduction promises.

Yet alongside hard-won global political progress, 2015 was defined by a single, gut-wrenching, image: three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on the shore of a beach in Turkey.

It spoke to the appalling ordeals faced by millions dealing with chaos, death, and destruction.

The UN says the number of women, men and children – like Aylan – forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict and persecution has reached 60 million, a level unknown in since the Second World War.

The cross-party support for refugees in Scotland is therefore something we can all be proud of.

Oxfam is responding within Syria and surrounding nations by helping those who have fled the violence to endure their fifth winter away from home. We are also supporting people in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Gaza, and in many others countries – including Yemen.

Scotland’s moral obligation to help is clear, but the refugee flows to Europe, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, taught us that we cannot presume that global problems won’t affect us.

We must learn from 2015 and plan ahead. A small but responsive International Emergency Fund would bring greater predictability to our welcome but ad hoc emergency funding. We must also restore and protect the value of Scotland’s International Development Fund which has been devalued by a six-year funding freeze.

The scale of Scotland’s contribution may seem small – but it matters hugely.

• Jamie Livingstone is head of Oxfam Scotland

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