Poverty in the Developing World — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:35 pm on 28th April 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 1:35 pm, 28th April 2011

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend for initiating what has been a very timely debate. He mentioned the Global Poverty campaign and Positive Women, an NGO which is small, effective and remarkable in many ways and which I also know very well. My noble friend has shown his expertise and commitment. I have worked over a number of years with him as both of us have similar views and interests in international development.

This debate, as it always strikes me, has again been extremely impressive. Your Lordships show not only a real grasp of the issues but a passion for working for change. There is the global commitment to halving poverty by 2015. The millennium declaration is a unique compact between the north and the south and represents a consensus across the world that world poverty is a global problem. Poverty means that if you are a woman you walk several kilometres every day to collect water and firewood. It means suffering from diseases that were eradicated in rich countries decades ago. It means that children whom I have met on many occasions will never hold a pencil, never mind touch the keyboard of a computer. It means that you live in a dangerous and unhealthy environment. It means that you and your children will often go to bed hungry. It means that you are powerless, voiceless, fearful and marginalised. Malaria, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child deaths kill millions every year. Add to that the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and then we understand why there is a perception that Africa, in particular, is a wasteland of poverty, conflict and disease.

This is not a time for pessimism and cynicism. Great leaps forward have been made and more is certainly needed and possible in the battle that has to be waged against the endemic inequities which keep the people poor, excluded and powerless. Some countries have suffered serious setbacks and economic growth has been extremely unequal. The UN asserts that while the gaps in human development across the world are narrowing they remain huge. Now, however, is not the time to peddle doom and gloom about these issues, but rather to show that aid works and that effective development can and must be supported. That is why donors should focus on what they do best and should work with Governments on health, education, good governance, and support for justice and taxation systems.

In the current financial climate we hear many horror stories but those alone will not bring the necessary responses and justified support for international development which we need to see. Pictures and words about pathetic and supplicant people engender a sense of hopelessness about what can and must be done to make poverty history. A central plank of the Government's development policies is to work on fragile states and to seek the objective of value for money. Would the Minister care to comment on the view that increasing aid to fragile states is hardly consistent with the value-for-money objective? Is the Minister aware that the National Audit Office has warned DfID that serious efforts have to be made to minimise the clear risk of fraud and corruption in countries where governance and financial systems are weak?

Indeed, Andy Sumner, a very respected development economist, has statistics showing that more than 80 per cent of DfID's bilateral aid to Africa and Asia by 2014-15 will be going to countries defined as "very corrupt" by Transparency International. Is that not a cause for some serious concern? When we read the inevitable stories of mismanagement of UK development assistance, how then will the Secretary of State justify claims on value for money and how does DfID propose to deal with the clear risks that exist in this situation? Are there plans to ensure that civil society, faith groups and parliaments have access to information that makes it possible for them to track and monitor government expenditure? Is DfID engaged in supporting that in countries where we work?

As many noble Lords have said, a critical element in the arguments that we make about tackling extreme poverty is gender equity. If we do not achieve the MDG targets, we will not achieve gender equality; if we do not achieve gender equality, we will not meet the MDG targets. Extreme poverty erodes the skills, experience and networks that, through women, keep communities going. There is a perfectly justifiable priority for tackling the most intractable MDG-as others have mentioned, it is on maternal mortality-but such is the low value, status and respect given to women that we will not see the fundamental change that we need if we are to be able to save those precious women's lives.

We say this in the context of an OECD report that projects that aid will increase at about 1 per cent a year compared with a 13 per cent annual growth rate in the past three years. We should therefore be concerned that additional aid to low-income countries is likely very soon to be outpaced by population increases. Fifteen DAC members that are EU countries are promising a collective target of 0.7 per cent in 2015. One of them is the United Kingdom. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are absolutely sure that the 0.7 per cent target will be reached by the UK by 2015? Does the Minister agree that in the current circumstances innovative sources of financing development must be found? Will the Government support calls for increased taxation of the UK's financial sector, which according to the Institute for Public Policy Research could raise an extra £20 billion of revenue every year? The revenue that accrues could be used to tackle poverty at home and abroad and to meet the effects of climate change. This so-called Robin Hood tax has widespread support. The European Parliament recently adopted a position backing the idea of a tax that ensures that financial services make a contribution to the cost of recovery from the banking crisis. Global agreement on such a tax would be best, but the UK's stamp duty demonstrates that it is possible to introduce a successful, well designed financial transaction tax without undermining competitiveness. According to experts, a levy, even at the very low level proposed, is expected to raise funds that can contribute to global collective goods, especially green technology and development aid. Would the Minister care to comment on whether it is likely that the UK will support the view of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy that now is the time to move forward on the financial transaction tax?

May I also ask whether the UK will join members of the G20 that urge greater control of food speculation? Does the Minister agree that the activities of commodity investors and hedge fund managers have exacerbated the increases in food prices that we have seen and the resulting hunger and increased poverty?

I shall finally make one small point. Many Members of this House have spoken of making poverty history. There are things that we can do. New sources of finance are one of them, and hope I have made a case for them. What we have to do is to make sure that we make poverty history and not our future.