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.
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.
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.