Make Poverty History +15: Reflections on progress

by 08th Jul 2020
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Fifteen years ago today was the last day of the Gleneagles G8 Summit. I was there as the adviser for Africa and International Development for Number 10. This was the culmination of a campaign that saw 9 million brits demonstrate their support for aid to the worlds’ poorest people and 225,000 people joined the Make Poverty History march. It felt like a momentous day as the G8 made some huge commitments in response to the campaign. 

The key demands of the Make Poverty History campaign were: double aid for Africa, increase aid by $50 million, cancel debt of poorest countries, universal HIV/AIDs treatment and fairer trade. As someone who negotiated these commitments from the G8 to tackle poverty, I want to take a look at what Make Poverty History achieved. I’m going to outline the progress made, and give each element a GCSE-style grade. 

Double Aid for Africa 

The G8 committed to an "increase in official development assistance to Africa of $25 billion a year by 2010, more than doubling aid to Africa compared to 2004.” Aid to Africa increased from $18 billion in 2004 to $30 billion in 2010, increasing by 67%. But it's only 48% of the G8's bigger $25 billion promise. Grade B or 6 – and it has remained at this level. 

Since 2005, aid has gone up but the percentage of aid for Africa has gone down from 25% to 20%. It was worrying to hear the UK Prime Minister recently question why countries like Zambia and Tanzania received more funding that Ukraine and the Western Balkans, which he said are more strategically important to the UK. This suggests that the percentage of aid for Africa will continue to go down, contrary to need. Aid should be about alleviating need, not political networking. 

Increase aid by $50 billion a year by 2010, compared to 2004

Global aid increased from $80 billion in 2004 to $130 billion in 2010 meeting the target 100%. It is $150 billion today. That's a slam dunk  A* grade 9 for the G7 on the volume of aid.  

Aid has helped - not caused but helped - the share of world population (despite world population increasing) living in extreme £1 a day poverty, to fall from 36% in 1990 to 21% in 2005, to 9% in 2017. It has halved and halved again. As a result of this progress, the number of low income countries in the world has halved from 61 in 2005 to 31 in 2018.  

Low income countries

Cancel 100% of debt of world’s poorest countries  

The G8 committed to cancel 100% of outstanding debts of eligible heavily indebted poor countries to the IMF, IDA and African Development Fund. This promise was the first one we secured, one month ahead of the Gleneagles summit. 36 out of the 39 eligible countries, are receiving full debt relief. That's a Grade A* or 9.

However, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan are not receiving help yet.  Before the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, eligible countries were, on average, spending slightly more on debt service than on health and education combined. Now, they have increased markedly their expenditures on health, education, and other social services. On average, such spending is about five times the amount of debt-service payments.  That in turn has led to strong progress on Education and Health.

Fairer trade 

Unfortunately this was the weakest of all of the G8 responses to the Make Poverty History demands. It was disappointing and I made my next job to try to do better, as Head of International Trade in DFID. The World Bank estimated that completing those negotiations could have lifted 140 million people out of poverty. But in the years ahead, the G8 did not follow through on this. Grade = fail!   

Universal HIV/AIDs treatment 

The G8 committed to "as close as possible to universal access to treatment for all those who need it by 2010."  The percentage of people receiving HIV treatment increased from 3% in 2004 to 20% in 2010. That's only a grade C or 4. But by 2018, that has increased to 62% of everyone who needs it getting treatment. Grade A or 7.  

This was one of the most amazing things achieved by the G8 in 2005, and in every year afterwards. It was seen as almost impossible before 2005. People would say “AIDS drugs are too expensive” or “Too many people are infected”.  I had phone calls with G8 leaders teams that lasted hours into the night, negotiating this. But the Make Poverty History coalition would settle for nothing less. As a result of treating more people, and reducing infection rates, annual deaths from HIV have fallen from almost 1.7 million people dying in 2004, to 770,000 people dying in 2018 - a 55% improvement   


Take home message 

What’s my take-home message from all of this? We march, we call for change, we sign petitions, we write to our MPs. Often it feels futile. The news today looks very similar to the news of 2005, with poverty, war, famine and suffering seemingly endless. It’s easy to think that things aren’t getting better, or that aid doesn’t work. But things ARE getting better, and it’s partly BECAUSE of aid and because you marched.

We must not allow these gains to be lost. Aid is one of the things Britain should be most proud of. We must fight to keep it. And we can make progress. Things are better. But the job is not done. We must keep aid focused on finishing the job.

Want to take action? Sign our petition to save and protect aid.

Laurie Lee

I joined CARE in August 2014, because I believe strongly in our focus on economic development, gender equality and people holding governments accountable. My focus at CARE is on ensuring we have the best people to do the job we do, to support our teams on the ground in over 70 developing countries, and to ensure we continuously improve our ability to monitor the impact of our work, and learn how to do it even better.  

Prior to CARE I worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for seven years, advising them on development policy issues in Europe and Africa. Before that I worked for the British government. I managed British development programmes in South Africa and Afghanistan. He worked in 10 Downing Street to prepare the G8 Gleneagles Summit on Africa in 2005. And I ran the DFID Trade Policy Unit until 2008.

One good thing I've read

One of CARE’s goals is to help the 2 billion people – including 1.1 billion women – without access to financial services, to get them. This great and easy book, Portfolios of the poor: How the world's poor live on $2 a day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven, explains why there’s no such thing as living 'hand to mouth'. The poorer you are, the more you need financial management tools.


Twitter: @lauriejlee