Tax, Christmas and Ebola

As the director of the UK’s main international social change film festival, I’ve watched a lot of extraordinary and inspiring films over the years about injustice in our world.

But I found myself properly tipped over the edge last night, watching Panorama’s current programme about Ebola in Sierra Leone (link below). This 45 minute window on our world brought home (more than I’ve experienced for a long time) the utterly stark, shameful reality of how far we ALL have to go in speaking out about the day-to-day corruption and complicity – pervasive in our society and by extension, though to a much smaller extent, in Africa – which makes this extraordinary situation just the tip of a blade.

…To see Sierra Leonean villages stuff a dozen members of one family into an ambulance – when a single person is suspected of having the disease – and thereby condemning the whole household to death in the most horrific circumstances – all because they have just one ambulance per district… While here in the same week, our government again defends the right of a few hundred bankers to earn millions for mercenary speculation which cripples developing countries and makes a mockery of human equality.

As I watch these parents and sisters and children dying where they sit, all I can coherently hold accountable is our own country’s “culture of financial secrecy which allows unscrupulous firms to rob poor countries of more than $160bn annually by dodging tax” (Christian Aid), and thereby preventing governments in countries like Sierra Leone from investing properly in health, and education, and local agriculture.

Do we really have a choice then – those of us who want to resist this particular era of greed – than to show our society how seriously we value a completely different type of economy, and redirect our Christmas present budgets to support those taking sustained action to curb these injustices?

It took the abolishinists more than 20 years of going round the houses in Parliament to see the beginnings of the back of slavery. We have to build on their legacy, not assume it. We can achieve things just as historic, but we MUST proactively choose to live out a different, more difficult set of priorities, and just as importantly speak to friends, strangers and cynics about why – humbly of course, because we’re all of us just beginners and stumblers.

So let’s not waste time on Geldof. It’s not about (band) aid. And it’s not about “them” finding out what Christmas is all about; that’s OUR challenge. I’d urge you to watch the Panorama programme and share it with friends alongside a similar message to this one (or just share this post).

Then instead of propping up a fake economy this Christmas (TV news horror story: “high street shopping down 2%!”) reutilise those 12hrs average shopping time and take your family on a special walk together, or spend a day making presents with your kids or friends using what you already have in the house. Upcycle those favourite books which you swear you’re gonna read again, but probably won’t, etc. Use one hour to take one of the actions below. Above all, tell people something meaningful in a charity or hand made Christmas card. (“Dear John, I’ve given my Christmas present money to X, to fight tax avoidance – so here’s a CD from my collection which is probably more awesome that the one you asked for”).

And then CELEBRATE with friends and family what the season is really about: love, compassion, Only Fools and Horses.

BBC PANORAMA…/ep…/b04plw27/panorama-ebola-frontline (available til mid Dec 2014)

IDEAS ABOUT WHO TO DONATE TO (one off or regular-like, if you can)
or – less issue-specific – us if you’re in Scotland:


Inspiration for Upcycled Christmas presents (or just give your stuff away as it is!)
Currently featuring an accessible 30min short film about the effects of tax avoidance on Africa:
Or a more all-age friendly film in two minutes: