This week Comic Relief celebrated its 25th anniversary of Red Nose Day and as we look back over the years, there is a lot to be proud of. For the past quarter of a century, Red Nose Day has inspired people up and down the country to play a part in changing the lives of millions of people across Africa for the better. The work of Comic Relief and the public's generous contributions, have helped create a brighter future for people living in some of the poorest places in the world.
With the help of charities like Comic Relief, the last 25 years have seen the most dramatic improvements in living standards the world has ever seen. More people are escaping abject poverty - nearly 500 million in the last five years alone and fewer people are dying of hunger and starvation. Child deaths have halved in the last 20 years and more children are going to school than ever before - 44 million in the last 20 years.
This progress is unprecedented in human history. If we hold the course, we can end absolute poverty within a generation. That must be the simple but powerful aim of the next set of development goals.
Here in the UK, we are taking centre stage on development this year. 2013 will be a hugely important year for international development and there is much work to be done. We have a unique opportunity to shape how support is used for years to come.
This year the Prime Minister is co-chairing the UN Panel that will shape the way development issues such as poverty are tackled in the future, when the Millennium Development Goals come to an end after 2015. And we will become the first country in the G8 to reach the goal of spending 0.7% of national income on development. This is an achievement that we can all be proud of.
We will also hold the G8 Presidency this year and we will ensure reform on trade, tax and transparency, all of which have a major impact on development, are at the very core of the work we undertake worldwide. Non-Government Organisations and charities, including Comic Relief, will continue to mobilise the public around the important issues, including through the new IF campaign on food and hunger. The Government will also join these efforts with our own special event on hunger before the G8 meets in June.
Britain should be at the heart of driving the changes needed for the post-2015 world. And in our enthusiasm to tackle the challenges of the future, we must not forget that we have just two years left to meet the existing Millennium Development Goals. We need to sprint to the finish line.
But, it is also a time for all of to challenge ourselves and to look to the future. In that future I want people to be proud of what we did to tackle world poverty in the same way we can be proud of our predecessors.
That means working collaboratively with the developing world, as it is today - not as it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. As countries successfully develop, it's inevitable that we will have to challenge ourselves to ensure our support is properly targeted. I want to work with our businesses and our universities to unlock opportunities not just for Government to work with developing countries to help them develop, but for business to work with developing countries to help them develop too. That's why over the coming months I'll be working with the CBI and universities to make sure the Department for International Development continues to be a driver of economic growth in developing countries.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia put it very clearly - she wants an end to aid dependency. I had the privilege of meeting her again last week in Liberia. She is an inspirational leader putting her country back on track, but she wants her country's future to be in its own hands, her people's, not dependent on decisions taken elsewhere.
And when countries do become better able to stand on their feet, we should celebrate that but also gradually move our development spend to those countries that are yet to reach the same stage and still need our help to make a difference.
It is also our duty to ensure that when a pound of British taxpayers' money is spent, it is a pound that takes the country that we are working with further along the path of development. Our money should not be invested in simply maintaining the status quo. We want to invest in long-term progress.
So we must always remember the huge impact that charities like Comic Relief have had over the past twenty-five years, thanks to the incredible generosity of the British public. But we also need to look to the future. That's fundamentally about giving people, wherever they are in the world, the chance to stand on their own feet, to be healthy, to be able to pursue their lives in their own way and to make the most of their talents. If we can do this, our chance to make lives better across our planet is a truly powerful one. It is in our hands.
In 2011 the Government backed the public's support for Red Nose Day with £10m towards the Comic Relief's work in improving health and education across Africa. This contribution by the Government matched Comic Relief's own commitment to spend £10m in these areas, enabling them to double their impact. Louise Redknapp reported back on what some of the money was achieving for children in Uganda.