John’s Member’s Debate- Oxfam’s Lift Lives for Good

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a member of Oxfam.

I thank members from across the Parliament for supporting the motion, and I thank Oxfam for its briefing. In that briefing, we read that Oxfam’s vision is: “a just world without poverty”.

I do not think that anyone would take issue with that. It wants: “A world where people feel empowered to improve their own lives, so they can in turn help others in their communities, setting in motion a chain reaction of change.”

We know that Oxfam enjoys considerable support across the country through its network of shops and its volunteers. A recurring theme of the approach that it takes is to encourage self-help. As it says: “It’s about more than just delivering aid.”

It is about creating that chain reaction. It would like to see, as I hope we all would, “grassroots action” resulting in “global decision making” that effects “lasting change.”

Oxfam has a history of involvement in campaigning. It has been involved with the make poverty history and enough food for everyone if campaigns. The lift lives for good fundraising campaign is the start of an ambitious new drive to tackle the root causes of poverty in 2014.

Oxfam makes clear in its excellent briefing and the report that it has compiled, “Lift Lives for Good: Actions to Tackle Inequality and Climate Change” that it sees the two biggest threats as being the growing gap between the richest and the poorest and the damage that is caused to poor people by climate change. Although there have been some economic gains in middle-income countries, they have not resulted in lifting many people out of poverty.

In the report, Oxfam mentions the political leadership in the United Kingdom. I hope that members of the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved institutions will see that there is a clear supporting role for them, too.

With regard to equality, Oxfam mentions the need to “Put tackling inequality at the heart of decision making”, “Address the unfair UK and global tax rules that fuel inequality”
and “Promote universal free public health care and education services to tackle inequality”. There are other points, but I will move on to climate change, given the limited time that I have.

Oxfam encourages investment in a low-carbon future, which I hope that we would all support. It refers to the UK, but that is for Scotland, the UK and the planet. Oxfam asks us to invest in climate resilience and low-carbon development overseas and to “Promote ambitious global agreements on climate change” and “sustainable energy access”.

Positive moves on that have happened in the Parliament, but we should not be complacent.

The world produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people—840 million people—go to bed hungry each night. It is estimated that climate change could increase child malnutrition by 20 per cent, which would eliminate improvements that might otherwise occur through campaigns such as this one. A damning statistic is that, for every $6 of subsidy for fossil fuels, renewable energy enjoys only $1 of subsidy.

Oxfam is talking about, for example, an innovative dairy programme in Sri Lanka, a revolutionary rice-growing system in Liberia, and seed-growing co-operatives in Nepal. All those measures are designed to be catalysts to lift entire communities. Oxfam talks about smart aid and says that a concerted effort is needed to achieve the ripple effect of such good work. The important thing is to empower communities.

Oxfam talks about reappraising how aid works and seeing it as having transformative power rather than as a single short-term action. Aid helps people to build skills and help themselves. That approach is at the heart of what Oxfam does and has done for many years. We have all been involved in gifting a goat, a hen or bags of seeds and the like. Oxfam believes—it is rather harsh on itself—that it has not communicated that model of growth particularly well.

Oxfam notes that, in the past 10 years, 50 million more children in Africa have benefited from education, which is at the root of all our potential for improvement. It refers to how the global fund to tackle HIV, which blights the continent of Africa, is saving 3,000 lives a day and how debt cancellation has released millions of pounds for positive work in the countries affected—although many of us feel that countries could go a lot further on debt cancellation.

Oxfam does not just work abroad. There are fine examples from its work across Scotland. Govan features a lot in that—it is where Tea in the Pot; the GalGael Trust, which builds the wonderful traditional sailing boats that we have seen; and Sunny Govan radio are based. In my part of the world, Lochboisdale Amenity Trust is undertaking an interesting project to fund the purchase of trees for crofters to create shelter belts on fenced crofts and common grazings and for amenity planting. Oxfam is involved with partner agencies in making grants.

The mother appeal will give mothers worldwide the lift that they need to use their power to change the future. I think that we all agree that mothers are a powerful motivating group not only in their families but in their communities. The hope is to raise £10 million, and the UK Government has said that it will match up to £5 million donations that are made before 31 March and sales of items that are donated before then and sold before the end of April. I do not often praise the UK Government, but it is to be complimented on that and on retaining the overseas aid budget.

A new vocabulary, certainly for me, is associated with the campaign. There is shwopping—I hope that I have pronounced that correctly—which means bringing an old item of clothing into a Marks and Spencer store each time that something new is bought. All such clothing goes to Oxfam. I am told that items are placed in a shwop drop box. I am sure that adequate instructions will be available for anyone who wishes to help.

The appeal is targeting projects in Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Zambia. We all understand that there is a range of problems there and that it is important that we provide assistance.

Oxfam has a wide community and it is well known across Scotland. It provides statistics on and a breakdown of income from its shops. I am delighted that the shop in Oban town, where I used to live, features in the top 10 of shops. Oxfam has a breakdown of its record shops, clothes shops, bookshops and the like.

Oxfam quotes an interesting survey from last year, in which people said that supporting a charity uplifts their spirits. I hope that we will all take the opportunity to have our spirits uplifted in coming years and that we will all support this good campaign.

 

The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess): I am pleased to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Government. Like others, I thank John Finnie for bringing the topic to the chamber for debate and for lodging the motion, which I whole-heartedly support.

During the debate, members outlined clearly how the campaign can help. Sometimes, a small amount sets off the chain reaction about which Oxfam is talking and about which we have heard. In her speech, Jackie Baillie talked about how she had seen in her community something that altered the lives of individuals and their families, lifted them out of poverty and had an impact on the wider community. Such programmes in the underdeveloped or developing countries not only change countries and communities but make the world a better place, which is what we all want.

Humza Yousaf, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, would have liked to have been here but he is on a visit to Malawi and Zambia, representing Scotland’s work in those countries and seeing for himself some of the challenges that communities in the developing world face and the work that is being done to help them. During his visit, he will meet the Oxfam country director in Zambia to hear first hand about some of the good work that Oxfam, supported by Scottish Government funding, is doing to support communities in dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Oxfam is a key delivery partner for the Scottish Government’s international development and climate justice funds. The project in Zambia is just one of a number of Oxfam initiatives that we are supporting and that are making a real difference to people’s lives in many parts of the world. In Tanzania, Oxfam is receiving £1.3 million of Scottish Government funding to provide food security for farmers through a partnership arrangement with the local Government and private companies. In Pakistan, we are giving Oxfam £350,000 to assist small-scale farmers to improve their productivity, while in Malawi we are providing Oxfam with £400,000 to deliver a project that is focused on addressing the needs of vulnerable women who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.

Of course, that is just a flavour of the work that Oxfam does around the world, which is having a huge impact on people’s lives, reducing poverty and fighting inequality wherever they exist. That is work to which Scotland contributes globally, not just through the funding provided by the Scottish Government, but through the contribution of Scottish taxpayers to the UK Government’s development assistance programmes and, of course, through donations and purchases made by people in Oxfam’s 51 shops with 1,000 trained volunteers up and down the country, which members mentioned and on which they commented.

Last year, Oxfam celebrated 50 years of working in Scotland and, in that time, it has done a marvellous job in raising awareness among the general public of the inequalities that, sadly, persist in many parts of our world.

Oxfam played a crucial role in highlighting the problem of global hunger through last year’s campaign, enough food for everyone if. That influenced the Scottish Government’s decision to give funding to the six development education centres in Scotland that provide training and support for Scottish teachers to equip our young people to become global citizens and be aware of the challenges that our world faces and the role that we can all play in helping to tackle them.

The make poverty history campaign in 2005 is another example of how Oxfam has worked with other organisations to help draw attention in Scotland to the issues that face people in the developing world.

Oxfam has a track record of dedication and commitment as well as a passion to make a difference to people’s lives throughout the world. I can see that passion reflected in the lift lives for good campaign that it has launched.

The campaign rightly highlights the two biggest threats to ending poverty: the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people in the world; and the damage that is caused to poor people by climate change. The Scottish Government takes both of those issues seriously. Right now, our £9 million international development fund is focused on helping some of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

The “Scotland’s Future” publication sets out clearly what action this Government would take in an independent Scotland to help the world’s poorest people, including commitments to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on overseas aid, ensure that all our policies across Government do no harm to countries in the developing world, promote gender equality, and give careful consideration to the question of unjust debts.

We also fully support the lift lives for good campaign’s focus on highlighting the issue of climate change. The Scottish Government strongly recognises the voices of those who are in the front line in relation to the impacts of climate change. They are suffering from a changing environment that is causing increasingly erratic weather patterns, crop failures, water shortages and newly spreading diseases. Our world-leading £3 million climate justice fund is a recognition of the injustice of climate change and the fact that those who have done least to cause the problem have been most affected by its impacts.

The fund is already helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change for people in Malawi and Zambia and, last October, the First Minister announced a doubling of the climate justice fund, which will provide further support for vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Scottish Government is pleased to support this motion and commends the work of Oxfam in drawing attention to the issues of global poverty and inequality through the campaign. I encourage everyone to get shwopping. I will certainly be doing that. The Government is determined to do what it can to make a difference and I am pleased that, through this motion and today’s debate, the Parliament will encourage the people of Scotland to support Oxfam’s lift lives for good campaign in its aim to make an impact on poverty around the world.