Making Poverty History Is The Best Job In Government

Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria - Penny Mordaunt can actually do something about these crises
Victoria Jones - PA Images via Getty Images

Poor old Penny Mordaunt, says Ian Birrell in The Times. He seems to think that she’s got the worst job in government but I disagree. While other new Cabinet Ministers struggle with crises they inherit from their predecessor, she’s been given a political and policy platform to secure her own place in history.

On Channel 4 News this week, the UN World Food Programme explained that our generation is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two: battling the threat of four separate famines in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria. These aren’t natural disasters, they are man-made disasters caused by violent conflict. Penny Mordaunt can actually do something about this.

In a special broadcast of the Today programme from a refugee camp in Bangladesh that same day, we heard about the plight of the Rohingya. Another historic man-made crisis caused by persecution on a scale not seen since Rwanda in 1994. And now, an outbreak of deadly diphtheria is killing children in the refugee camps and threatening to overwhelm the healthcare systems of the entire region. Penny Mordaunt can actually do something about this. She has already sent a medical team of 40 NHS workers to help save children’s lives.

The reason Penny Mordaunt can act, is because she has the resources to do so. And the UK’s commitment to the UN target of 0.7% means she also has some money left over to tackle the long term and structural cause of instability and suffering: poverty.

As Boris Johnson wrote in the Spectator this week: “it can never be repeated too often that 28 years ago, in 1990, there were 1.8billion living in absolute poverty. Today that figure has been reduced by a billion to fewer than 800 million in poverty, and is falling.” And Penny Mordaunt gets to make an important contribution to ensure it keeps falling.

Aid is not forever but it is needed now. A decade ago, we proudly declared that we were the first generation who could make poverty history. And that declaration was shown to be true: we are more than half way there. But today, that progress is being questioned. People are right to ask tough questions. And there is no doubt that the second half will be harder to lift from poverty. But it would be wrong to give up now.

Our’s could actually be the last generation that could make poverty history. As economies grow, societies are becoming more unequal. As richer countries struggle to cope with globalization, politics is turning in on itself. And climate change is creating more extreme weather events - like floods and droughts - that make life harder for poor people living on less than £2 a day.

It would be wrong to give up now because we know what works. It would be wrong to give up now because when people escape poverty they are less likely to be a threat and more likely to be consumers for our goods and services, or trading partners for our industries.

We know that when we give people in poverty a hand up, not a hand out, they can stand on their own two feet. Charity begins at home, but it shouldn’t stop there.

Our country isn’t alone. This is an effort funded by ordinary taxpayers not just in Britain but in America, in Germany and other advanced economies. If we keep at it, if we stay the course, and if countries like ours keep working together, we can end global poverty by 2030. Penny Mordaunt has the best job in government because she gets to make poverty history.

Richard Darlington is Campaign Director on behalf of 25 of the UK’s leading NGOs

Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo


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