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Being The Generation To End Global Poverty

Monday 4th February 2013

The Archbishop writes in the Yorkshire Post today about having the chance to make a significant and long lasting positive impact for people living in poverty around the globe by putting our poorest at the heart of policy agenda at home and overseas. His article follows in full...


Our Prime Minister has the chance to make a significant and long lasting positive impact for people living in poverty around the globe.

David Cameron was one of three leaders who chaired a summit in Liberia on fighting worldwide poverty last week. 

As we face our own struggles with poverty and public service cuts at home, it is easy to forget those who are suffering overseas – but we should remember every individual’s life is precious, wherever they live.

Tough choices at home should not mean that we turn our back on those living overseas. While I have been a staunch critic of some of this Government’s policies and their effect on the poorest and most vulnerable, it is important that we also give praise where it is due. 

I believe on the issue of International Development. This Government – and this Prime Minister – have, so far, have shown a real willingness to make things better for those struggling overseas. To preserve the international aid budget, when other departments are facing severe and devastating cuts, showed real courage and moral determination. Most of all it was the right thing to do.

Helping those facing destitution and starvation overseas may not win many votes at home, but it does save lives and make our world a stronger and safer place to live. 

We live in an inter-dependent world, where we share economic and ecological vulnerabilities. The recent global economic downturn showed all of us that an isolationist approach will not work. It is both wrong and, in fact, impossible to try to insulate ourselves from the difficulties being experienced by countries on the other side of the globe.

It is in that spirit of openness that I encourage the Prime Minister to be bold and work with other governments on agreeing an ambitious agenda to end extreme poverty globally by 2030.

When we campaigned on issues such as Jubilee 2000 all those years ago, we did not say “Cancel some unpayable debts, so that some people can be marginally better off” – no, we said “Cancel all unpayable debts so that we can eradicate poverty”. That is the vision we need to embrace again today.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should be affirmed for what they have achieved, helping to lift some 600 million more people out of poverty – getting so many governments to agree on measurable targets was no mean task. The MDGs have led to unprecedented progress in health, education and poverty reduction and though many of the goals will not be met in all countries, we must not give up. 

It is true what the Prime Minister, and others, have said – we can be the generation that finally ends poverty. To do this, we must finish the job we started with the MDGs.

The Church has always said we need to go further than MDG targets, but we should not forget the UN Millennium Declaration that underpinned those targets – we need to aim high, building on what has been achieved, rather than slipping back. 

Save The Children have warned of the unintended consequences of these aggregate targets and how aiming aid at the poorest is the only just way for us to tackle global poverty. If we change our approach, and embrace hope, then in less than 20 years we could see a world where no child goes hungry or without schooling – if we carry on the course we are on then that vision will never be made a reality.

Ignoring the most vulnerable and continuing the exclusion of significant sectors of society, fuels both uncertainty and conflict. If we want to see the growth of sustainable democracy then we need to do things differently.

Liberia – which hosted this landmark meeting - is a good place to focus. Despite a 15-year civil war, the government in that country has said it wants to be a middle-income country by 2030. 

Liberia has committed to delivering free health care – babies who would have died during the war are living because clinics have been rebuilt and with support from Britain and other donors this policy could deliver even more progress. Only a few years ago the infant mortality rate was one in six, now it is one in 12. Foreign investment is bringing jobs – and taxes to fund schools and hospitals. We have made a great start, but we need to aim high if we are going to seize the moment and end poverty for good.

Think of the families facing a life condemned to poverty, hunger and deprivation. A life without opportunity or aspiration. Don’t they deserve better?

Poverty is multi-dimensional. Targets must recognise the inter-connections between different types of deprivation in health, education, hunger, economic power, personal autonomy and the political/public voice. It is too easy to look at the bottom line figures and forget we are dealing with real people, facing real life or death struggles.

The value of working in development with and through local church communities is that they often have a more organic and holistic approach to individual and communal wellbeing. 

When we ask “who is our neighbour?”, we should not just look over our garden fence but also at those living next door in our global village. Jesus’s love was transformative and all-encompassing. It is said “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”. 

Let us put the welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable at the heart of our policy agenda at home and overseas. Let us not forget those who through no fault of their own find themselves at the bottom of society. No-one deserves to be written off. With God, there are no lost causes.

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