Oxfam funding crisis puts 200 UK jobs at risk

By Karen McVeigh

More than 200 UK jobs could be lost at Oxfam, after the charity’s funding plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The threatened UK job cuts are in addition to the loss of almost 1,500 staff roles internationally and the closure of offices in 18 countries, announced by the aid organisation in May.

Oxfam’s funding model has been beset by a series of crises in recent years. Public donations had already fallen due to the Haiti sex abuse scandal, and its UK shops, which provided up to £5m a month, have been shut due to coronavirus.

The trade union Unite, which has 400 members at the organisation, described the threat to jobs as a “tragedy in the fight against global poverty”. It said it believed a third of the charity’s 800 staff at its Oxford headquarters were at risk of losing their jobs.

The job losses, part of a fast-tracked restructuring programme to cut costs by up to £16m, are also expected to hit Oxfam offices in Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Newcastle, as well as the specialist warehouse in Bicester, which supplies water tanks. Oxfam GB currently employs 2,040 people.

The charity’s short-term plan is to focus on protecting communities from Covid-19 and help them recover from a crisis expected to push half a billion more people into poverty.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “These strategic changes are long planned but I am sorry to be adding to the concerns of our dedicated and talented staff during this difficult time.

“The financial reality – not least the ongoing and uncertain impact of Covid – requires us to act now to ensure we live within our means. We will continue to consult fully and fairly with staff and their union representatives in reaching a final decision.” 

The charity will prioritise supporting people living in fragile states and focus on shifting power to the global south by working with local partners where possible, he said.

Unite said the funding crisis was the last straw in a series of poor management decisions, compounded by loss of funding from its shops. The union renewed its call for more government support for the not-for-profit sector.

Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar said: “The threatened job losses at Oxfam are a tragedy in the global fight against poverty. Many people don’t realise the extent that Oxfam is a world leader in public health, with dedicated staff who risked their lives to defeat the Ebola outbreaks.”

She added: “Oxfam’s directors have refused our requests to open a voluntary redundancy register; to furlough all staff who were made redundant in the last few months; or suspend the redundancy consultation during furlough. Oxfam should not be making redundancies while it can still use funding from the job retention scheme to pay for 80% of wages.

“Yet they decided to keep on two directors who had already resigned and are advertising externally for roles that could be filled internally.”