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The Heist We're Talking About And What The UK Government Should Do To Help Stop It

Posted by Matthew Spencer Director of Campaigns, Policy & Influencing, Oxfam

8th Nov 2017

Frame taken from film - silhouette of man carrying out a heist in a hospital

400 million people worldwide don't have access to essential healthcare services1. For Cecilia who lives in Zambia, the impact of this has been all too real. Her friend - and her friend's unborn child - died due to complications late on in pregnancy. There was no hospital nearby to give Cecilia's friend the treatment she so urgently needed.

Sadly Cecilia's friend was not unusual. 830 mothers still die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and birth2.

Oxfam believes that a world without extreme poverty is possible. But without access to free, quality, public healthcare, people can be trapped in a cycle of ill-health, loss of livelihood, catastrophic debt, and death which entrenches poverty across generations and especially for women. Conversely, when everyone has an equal chance to get needed medical treatment, a good education, clean water and other vital public services, it builds more equal societies and can lift families out of poverty for good. Investing in essential services which reach everyone fairly is one of the most powerful and effective ways we can tackle poverty and inequality.

This is why Oxfam cares about tax dodging. We made our film 'The Heist that No One Is Talking About' to illustrate how some big companies are starving governments of vital funds through their tax avoidance practises. While these companies are not literally stealing medicines or equipment from hospitals, they aren't paying their fair share in some of the world's poorest countries. This can have a knock on consequence for overall government resources, including those for healthcare.

For all countries, tax is the most sustainable way of raising funds for essential services. Other forms of finance such as aid and loans will remain vital in many nations, but there is a common challenge in developing countries to raise the amount of tax needed to invest in schools and hospitals, in roads and clean water.

But we know from recent scandals that a number of MNCs can legally avoid tax on a massive scale. We need a better way of knowing where companies do business, what taxes they pay and if there's a risk that a company isn't paying its fair share. This is where public Country by Country Reporting comes in. Companies which aren't engaged in elaborate tricks to reduce their tax bills won't have anything to worry about. Indeed some, have already started publishing such information, which is a great step forward.

We need governments to set consistent rules for companies and to require that they are accountable. The UK government has led the way on important tax transparency initiatives before. It was the first country to implement a public register of beneficial owners, so everyone can see who actually owns companies in the UK. It also helped pioneer the exchange of such information between countries so more tax authorities can assess where there may be concerns about tax avoidance or related misbehaviour. But despite also investing in developing countries' tax authorities, richer countries are not sharing enough information with developing countries, meaning that the inequality of information is making it even harder to tackle tax avoidance where it hurts the most.

Oxfam is calling on the UK government to implement public country-by-country reporting by the end of 2019. Like the government, we hope that a deal can be agreed with European countries. But we urge the government not to wait for something that may not materialise. Implementing public country-by-country reporting would mean more pressure on companies to pay tax where they do business. And it should ultimately mean more money for developing country governments. While governments must then do more to meet spending commitments on health and other vital services, imagine what the extra billions of dollars from corporate tax payments could do for basic healthcare in those countries. Even if only a small proportion went into healthcare for the poorest people it could mean many more mothers survive childbirth to see their children grow up into healthy adults.

Sign our petition to push Chancellor Phillip Hammond to activate Public Country-By-Country Reporting.


https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/uhc-report/en/ 

 2 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/

Blog post written by Matthew Spencer

Director of Campaigns, Policy & Influencing, Oxfam

More by Matthew Spencer

Matthew Spencer