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Development: Post-2015 Agenda

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the case for the United Nations Open Working Group on the post-2015 development agenda recommending a stand-alone global goal on inequality when it reports to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

My Lords, since 1990, the base date against which progress towards the MDGs is measured, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school and many fewer lives are being lost to hunger and disease. The global population as a whole is healthier, wealthier and better educated than ever before. In addition, the millennium development goals galvanised political commitment and challenged the complacency and apathy that stood in the way of progress.

All of that is encouraging. Regrettably, however, the promise offered by the millennium declaration in 2000 has not been met. It promised freedoms, solidarity and social justice, the right to development and human rights for all. That pledge was negated, though, when the eight richest country Governments drew up the MDG targets and indicators. They were top-down and decided behind closed doors. They therefore left unfinished business, such as the fact that the improvements in the past 20 years have still not reached significant minorities, who continue to be denied basic social, economic, civil and political rights. Then there is the unfinished business that arises from increasingly excessive concentrations of personal wealth when it is clear, as Oxfam says, that:

“We cannot afford to have a world of extreme wealth and extreme inequality”.

The logic of that is plain: when just 8% of the world’s population earns half of the world’s income and the remaining 92% shares the other half, power is abused, economic growth is stunted and social tensions are exacerbated. That is why it is now vital to achieve proper controls on tax-dodging and on the use of wealth to buy political favours. It is essential that the post-2015 agenda addresses the structural causes of poverty and injustice by tackling inequality, social exclusion, skewed financial systems and gender injustices.

Twenty years ago, more than 90% of the world’s population lived in low-income countries. Now 75% of the world’s poorest people live in middle-income countries. There is a new geography of poverty and it presents a main challenge for the post-2015 agenda. We can tick the boxes when we use the MDGs, which were set 14 years ago, as our benchmarks, but social exclusion and environmental sustainability are just not factored in. Now they must be, not least because the gaps in wealth obviously produce chasms in opportunity.

Children born to poor families are between five and 10 times more likely to die in their first year, and the gap is widening. Up to 70 million children are still not enrolled in school, and the most marginalised children—child labourers, poor rural girls, slum dwellers and ethnic minorities—are doomed to fall still further behind. Inequality, in short, makes poverty congenital.

Post-2015, the reduction of inequality must therefore be an explicit policy because chronic systemic inequity limits mobility, restricts the choices that people can make and cancels their potential. Inequalities inflicted upon the so-called hard-to-reach poor originate and endure because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, disability, language, sexual orientation and geographical location. These people are born marginalised and socially excluded, and are pushed out even further. These are the most powerless of the poor and, across many of the MDGs, they are being left further behind. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the global efforts needed to tackle the gross inequality that ODI director Kevin Watkins has called,

“one of the greatest development challenges of our age”.

With that in mind, the new goals should include targets to eliminate wealth and gender gaps and to secure improvements in child survival, antenatal care and school participation. Unlike the MDGs, the post-2015 agenda will be universal. That is a bold aim, and it needs to be; the true scale and nature of disadvantage is hidden in the MDG assessments by aggregate figures and averages. They distort the picture of results and, consequently, the policies based upon them.

The post-2015 framework must therefore include timely, disaggregated data so that vulnerable groups are clearly identified. To be focused and effective, action must be based on accurate and reliable information and rigorous monitoring. That necessity must be recognised in September when the UN General Assembly discusses the recommendations of the open working group on the post-2015 agenda. Those recommendations include a focus on inequality. I am persuaded by the arguments made by the Overseas Development Institute in favour of equality-related targets and indicators, which Kevin Watkins describes as stepping stones for reducing inequalities, with timelines for 2020 on the way to universal goals in 2030.

What goes into the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals really matters because those goals will set the global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. It is essential, therefore, that multilateral government action focuses on redistributing global wealth and opportunity as an explicit objective of all programmes to combat and overcome world poverty.

Whether we support a stand-alone goal or targets across a number of agreed goals depends on whether we believe, as I do, that arguing the case in all the relevant areas of policy can ensure that inequality issues get a comprehensive hearing and can be at the centre of any new framework. I welcome the fact that Save the Children is campaigning for a cross-cutting approach with disaggregated data, stepping-stone targets, targets on eradicating extreme poverty and the inclusion of an appropriate inequality dimension in each target or indicator across the board in the post-2015 framework. This will be needed to monitor progress in reducing inequality objectives identified, for instance, on child health and access to education. Indicators that have been identified can then be disaggregated and equity criteria applied to disability, ethnicity or location.

Frankly, I am somewhat sceptical about a general stand-alone inequality goal because I believe that it would risk losing the preferable option of inclusion across the entire post-2015 framework where disparities are growing. The co-chairs of the high-level panel, including the Prime Minister, have accepted the reality that, without explicit targets, poor people will be left behind. They wrote:

“We propose targets that deliberately build in efforts to tackle inequality and which can only be met with a specific focus on the most excluded”.

In agreeing with that, I ask the Minister: does she accept that, first, we need relevant data accurately to identify the most excluded; secondly, that we need explicit targets that capture inequality; and, thirdly, that we need targets that are incorporated into other goals, such as health and education, to focus attention on the specifics of existing disparities?

Inequality has been on the edges of development policy for far too long, generally because it has been considered too political. That must change. Inequity threatens efforts on poverty eradication, sustainable development, democratic processes and social cohesion, and it deprives people of their right to opportunity. World leaders can recognise and respond to the needs of the forgotten millions who are the most vulnerable and hardest to reach only if they make inequality a central focus of their objectives and their actions. Without that, they will continue to address symptoms instead of generating cures.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for this opportunity to discuss the post-2015 international development agenda. She has raised some very interesting issues which I am sure will be discussed further in this Chamber and the other place over the coming months in the run-up to the negotiations.

The current MDGs already implicitly embrace an inequality agenda. As has been demonstrated many times, reducing income poverty will be much more successful if growth is accompanied by declining inequality. This is even clearer in the case of the non-income MDGs. Universal primary education or massive reductions in mortality cannot be achieved without reducing inequality in health and education. The rich, healthy and educated are already doing well on mortality and education indicators, and further improvements for them will simply not even come close to achieving the large reductions called for by the MDGs. Reducing income, education and health inequality is therefore a critical means to achieving the MDGs. In that sense, a separate inequality goal seems redundant.

The MDGs were quite successful in generating a global consensus by focusing on acute deprivations suffered by people across the developing world and formulating goals to overcome those deprivations. It was possible to forge a consensus on reducing poverty, undernutrition and mortality, improving education and increasing access to water and sanitation. This was a great achievement in that the world community agreed on a common set of indicators that described human well-being in its multidimensional complexity—something to be welcomed. But would such a consensus be forthcoming for a goal to reduce inequality? A certain level of inequality is not an end in itself but a means to achieve greater growth, well-being and social cohesion. Moreover, it is, and it will remain, unclear what the optimal level of inequality will be. This sort of debate—about the optimal Gini coefficient, for example—has the potential to derail progress on a post-2015 development agenda.

It is comparatively easy and desirable—and, as the MDGs showed, possible—to forge a global consensus on reducing deprivation wherever it occurs. However, distributional questions are much more issues where we will ultimately have to defer to the local processes in each country to define what type of inequality is intolerable, what can and should be done about it, and how to do that. Is it feasible or even desirable for the international community to prescribe a goal for each country? Surely each country has to make its own choices.

In short, it is clear that tackling inequality will have to be an important part of any agenda to eliminate extreme deprivations across the globe. However, that is not a justification for formulating a contentious specific goal as part of the post-2015 development agenda. As the Secretary of State for International Development said recently,

“we know promises and words will mean nothing, unless they are backed up by strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms”.

The outcome of each and every goal should be clearly measurable and in the absence of sufficient data, this will be hard to achieve with a stand-alone goal on inequality.

The report of the high-level panel states that no target should be considered “achieved” unless it is achieved for everyone, whatever their gender, income or background. How could this be properly measured and how can problem areas be identified unless the type of data available is improved dramatically? DfID’s development tracker website that tracks British development money as it is spent is a step in the right direction. It is a good example of a project that will allow us to see where equality is being improved and to use a variety of measurements rather than a bog-standard, “one rule for everyone” method.

I turn briefly to a gender equality goal. This must be a zero-sum game. Surely development is sustainable only if both halves of the world’s population are engaged in this agenda? Women are consistently disadvantaged across the developing world, without exception. All the evidence shows that countries thrive when women and girls are educated, empowered and healthy. Women have the power to transform societies, but we must ensure that they have the tools to make the changes that are so necessary.

As we have said many times in this Chamber, DfID’s record on assisting women around the world has been exceptionally good. As a result of the department’s focus on the women and girls, more than 14 million women have gained access to financial services, almost 3 million girls are in primary education and more than 4 million women are using modern methods of family planning. I am sure that we are going to hear more about that from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. The value of these achievements should not be underestimated. The participation of women in their communities and wider society is invaluable. Government agendas which fail to address the representation of women may lead to free and fair elections initially, but a male-dominated parliament will never fully be able to tap into and harness the potential and capacity of its entire population —and here, my Lords, we might look at ourselves again.

Yet, history has proven that when times are difficult, women are often the first to be set aside or climbed over. It is well known that women are consistently disproportionately affected by crises. Only by allowing them fully to engage with strong governance structures and giving them the tools to empower themselves can we ensure that they are protected in the future.

When the going gets complex it helps to reach for a simple guiding principle. Noble Lords may remember this quotation from Mahatma Gandhi:

“Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen”—

he wrote shortly before his death—

“and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him”.

As a guide to international co-operation on development, that is tough to beat.

The high-level panel recognised that inequality holds back human development around the world, and the report made a powerful case for a focus on the poorest and most marginalised. It is our responsibility—and debates like this help—to ensure that political momentum behind the development of a bold post-2015 framework does not fade. While the agenda is undoubtedly an opportunity to build on the achievements of the millennium development goals, we must bear in mind that there is a risk that, in our efforts to leave no one behind, we end up splitting our focus and ultimately achieving little.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for securing this debate this evening, which takes place in the week when we see the first evidence that the cross-party agreement in this Chamber and in the other place to achieve the target of 0.7% of our national wealth going to development each year is now starting to bear fruit. This evening’s debate is therefore happening at a very opportune moment. Those who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, have campaigned for years for that achievement can take some pleasure in seeing the results starting to happen. I am also delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. At the end of this month we will again take part in the annual Live Below the Line campaign, living on £1 a day for five days to highlight extreme global poverty. I am sure that we will enjoy the encouragement of noble Lords in that endeavour, even if we are not particularly looking forward to it.

I recently spent some time in the Philippines as a volunteer with VSO Bahaginan, which is the partner organisation of VSO in the Philippines. The organisation asked me to go there during the February Recess to work with the Beyond 2015 campaign there on some work it was doing with the Government and with civil society organisations in the country. I jumped at the opportunity, because for the majority of the population in the Philippines development has been held back by what seem to me to be the three key factors that need to be addressed in the post-2015 development agenda. The first is, of course, inequality: the population of the Philippines contains a small number of very rich people, who have done very well over the years. However, to this day a very significant number of people live in poverty and 25% of the population live in extreme poverty, even in a country which is, in comparison to some other parts of the world, at least in the early stages of development.

The Philippines also suffers from the dramatic impact of climate change and extreme weather events. For example, Typhoon Haiyan, which caused such horrific devastation in November, was called Typhoon Yolanda inside the Philippines because they name each typhoon that happens every year after the next letter of the alphabet, and they had already had 24 of them in 2013. The third issue that affects the people of the Philippines is conflict. A long-running conflict is still going on in Mindanao, and ongoing conflicts in other parts of the country that went on through the 1990s and in the early part of this century also hold back development.

It was a fascinating experience, a very stark reminder of the way in which inequality, climate—the environment —and conflict affect the ability of countries and communities to develop, even in the 21st century, and a reminder of the importance of those three strategic issues in the post-2015 debate. We need to recognise that the MDGs have made a major impact across the world. They have raised the level of provision in education, health, clean water and a host of other areas, in some of the poorest parts of the world. However, because of the way that the MDGs were constructed—as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, outlined, and because of the delay in the first few years, perhaps up until the first Gleneagles summit, which affected the impetus behind their delivery—the MDGs have not have the impact that they could have had in many parts of the world. It is vital that in whatever replaces the MDGs not only do we have more urgency, universality and a global commitment to a genuine partnership that allows countries to lead their own development themselves with our support and with their own mechanisms, the engagement of civil society, transparency, accountability and all the things that matter to make that agenda work in practice, but three key issues also need to be addressed at that time.

First, we have a great opportunity here because, when the MDGs were agreed, there was a completely separate strand of international negotiations on climate. We must build agreements on climate change and the environment and on the ability to resist the worst impacts of natural disasters and incorporate them in the post-2015 framework and not have them as a completely separate set of international negotiations and a completely different strand of goals.

Secondly, as I have said in this Chamber on many occasions, we must address conflict and peacebuilding. If we do not, we will never secure the opportunities we seek for those people living in the poorest countries and communities who are most affected by violence, discrimination, inequality, lack of services and instability. Only by supporting genuine peacebuilding in those parts of the world most affected by conflict, and putting that at the centre of the new post-2015 agenda, will we assist the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Thirdly, we must address inequality—the key issue of this evening’s debate. That includes income inequality and economic inequality. We should address inequality in countries that have fallen behind over the years and in those which have never caught up or are in the very early stages of development and therefore need a greater level of support.

I should mention the living conditions of people in the developing world with disabilities, who are now living much longer than they have ever done previously. In many developing countries, disabled people have a place in society that they have never enjoyed previously. However, in many of these countries, disabled people still have almost no access to education, adequate health services or other forms of support, particularly the opportunity to work or receive financial support outside the family.

Women play a critical role in making development happen, as was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Jenkin. The post-2015 agenda needs to address gender inequality but also needs to go significantly further in empowering women to be the drivers of development. We all know that in the most successful examples of development round the world women are playing a key role at both the community and national level. Therefore, the agenda needs not only to address gender inequality but to empower women to make a difference in the developing world and here, so that we can build the better world that we want to see.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, on securing the debate and giving those engaged in aid programmes and policy-making the opportunity to discuss these issues.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on raising the points that he did, particularly his comments on the Philippines. Quite a few years have passed since I was in Manila, although I do not want to tell noble Lords how long ago that was. However, I shall never forget seeing two things all those years ago. The nightlife of Manila is world famous for all the wrong reasons, but I shall never forget seeing a neon sign in the centre of the city which said: “AIDS cured here”. That showed the level of desperation and ignorance—or optimism, if you want to call it that—which existed in those days. The other thing I remember is that the Philippines benefited in some ways from the control that was exercised by the United States of America. I think that it was the only colony that America ever had. The Americans gave the Filipinos the gift of education, on which they thrived. However, the tragedy was that well educated young people who trained to become teachers and nurses were employed as waiters and waitresses because that was the only work that they could get. That is where the inequality struck home. I was a young man at that time but I have never forgotten how tragic and unfair it was that these bright, talented people had no opportunities.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for reminding us that we have achieved the aid target of 0.7% of our gross national income. I am obviously delighted that that is one of the great positive things that have come out of the coalition Government. The Liberal Democrats pressed to have that included in the agreement and it has been achieved. We should all take great comfort and pride from that.

In an Answer to a Written Question in March from my colleague Martin Horwood MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lynne Featherstone MP, replied:

“The UK has been clear in its call for a standalone goal on gender equality and girls and women’s empowerment as well as ensuring that these issues are addressed throughout the goals and targets in the framework to be agreed by members of the United Nations. The UK’s statement at the Commission on the Status of Women highlighted the need for a standalone goal on gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women in the post-2015 framework. We are working with others across the international community, including civil society, to ensure that this is achieved”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/3/14; col. 87W.]

In a wider sense, inequalities remain unacceptably high across all aspects of life. Inequalities in income and wealth are severe and widening globally between and within countries. The richest 1% of the world’s population now controls some 40% of the world’s assets—a point raised by noble Lords earlier. Inequalities of opportunity and of outcomes cannot be fully separated, as poor outcomes frequently undermine future opportunities. There is strong evidence that unequal outcomes are transmitted from parents to children, compromising life opportunities for the next generation. Impacts on capabilities, through poor health stunting the process of brain development and learning, are often cumulative, irreversible and lifelong.

Inequalities matter not only because of their impact on social justice; they matter in relation to reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. They need to be systematically addressed if the aspirations of the post-2015 development agenda are to be realised for all. Their persistence has made the eradication of extreme poverty and the full attainment of universal goals very challenging. Inequalities in themselves tend to be a barrier to opportunities. They undermine people’s sense of well-being, they increase the risk of violent conflict and they lead to harm in the wider society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals recognised that the MDGs focused more on global and national averages and aggregate progress without explicitly addressing inequalities, both within and between countries. The new framework needs to go beyond global and national averages. It needs to measure the levels of achievement of different social groups to highlight who has been left behind. It needs to incorporate targets to ensure progress for all social groups and reduce the differences in achievements so that action can be taken to improve the situation for all groups.

Because inequalities cut across all dimensions of development, there has been much discussion over whether there should be a stand-alone goal on equality or whether addressing inequalities should be mainstreamed across all goals, targets and indicators, or a combination of both.

In the current MDG framework, there are well established goals, targets and indicators with respect to gender equality, and there are proposals for additional targets for the post-2015 agenda. In this regard, NGOs are making an important contribution. For example, Christian Aid is calling for the closure of gaps impeding global equity, such as income inequality between genders, as well as inequalities relating to tax, social protection, land rights, governance and partnerships. It is calling for gender equality and women’s empowerment as a stand-alone goal and for transformational targets in areas such as gender-based violence, participation, leadership and economic justice. It is seeking the integration of gender throughout the new sustainable development goals.

Christian Aid acknowledges that the MDGs failed to address poverty among the most disadvantaged and marginalised populations, and it welcomes the “leave no one behind” agenda. In particular, it supports the idea that no new goal or target should be considered met unless it has been met for all incomes and specified social groups.

Another NGO, Age International, makes a strong case for tackling people of all ages in the post-2015 framework. This, it says, will be effective only if it is relevant to people of all ages. The open working group’s focus on tackling inequalities echoes the high-level panel’s call to “leave no one behind” and the idea that no target would be considered met unless it was met for all relevant social groups, including older people.

The global population is ageing rapidly. The number of older people is predicted to increase to 2 billion by 2050. Some two-thirds of older people live in developing countries. By 2050, this will have increased to four-fifths. This is a cross-cutting issue for people of all ages. Older people experience inequalities in their daily lives and are more likely to live in poverty. Globally, half as many again older women and nearly a quarter as many again older men live in poverty compared with women and men of working age.

Poverty cannot be effectively eradicated without taking into account all people, regardless of age, gender or ability. The MDGs made great strides in reducing extreme poverty but failed to address deep-rooted inequalities of age, gender and disability. Bond Beyond 2015 UK is the global campaign aiming to influence the creation of a post-2015 development framework to succeed the current UN MDGs. It brings together more than 900 civil society organisations from across the world. It makes the case that inequality is extreme and in many cases growing. It is unjust and damaging. Promoting equality must therefore be a cross-cutting objective of the post-2015 framework in addition to poverty reduction.

Finally, the UK Government have an important role to play in championing the promotion of equality as a cross-cutting objective of the post-2015 framework through the open working group, agreement of a joint EU negotiating position and the UN intergovernmental process in the run-up to 2015.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for introducing this debate. As far as I can remember, I have spoken in every debate that she has brought to this Chamber. I have always supported her views and I am very pleased that we have her pushing for these issues. These days I do not cry very much because I am quite a happy person. The only thing that makes me feel tearful—I hope that it will not happen now—is thinking about the nearly 1 billion women in India and Africa whose lives are beyond imagination. It is not as if we can sit here and say, “Well, they have very difficult lives”, or, “It is so bad for them”. No, it is impossible for them. I do not know how they survive.

Yet women do most of the work. We all know that without the work of women, no work would be done at all. When I went to Jamaica, I saw a lot of women doing quite important jobs but they were given no status or importance. I said to them, “Why don’t you go on strike for one day? Just down tools and don’t do anything. If you really feel bad, look after the people who are very sick. But, please, do it for one day because your country will come to a standstill”. That is the situation: the women do the work and the men do not work very much in Africa. They work a bit more in India but do not do anything like the same amount of work as women. However, everything that is available is in the control of men.

For me, inequality is not so much about how much money we have, who should be given what or who should be helped with what. Inequality is between men and women in the developing countries. It is striking that we live with it and put up with it. I have been to many conferences where the “W” word has never been used, which is not right. Today, 1 billion women are suffering in India and Africa. What do we do? Really, we do nothing. We talk about it and we feel sorry for them. We say that the NGOs will do it but they cannot do everything. We need to look further than that, and to find means and ways of sorting out their lives.

I know that noble Lords will say that I am touting, but three years ago I published a book about how to change extreme poverty through women. It is about finding paid work for women. One of the most amazing things is that women are not in the economy of Africa or in the economy of India. Christine Lagarde spoke about how much difference it would make to Africa and India if the women were brought into the economy. If you go past the Indian subcontinent, the women are in the economy. It is quite amazing how well they have all done. Do noble Lords think that China would be where it is today without women working? It would not. Women are essential, not just to bear children—which is how they are seen—and look after men; they are essential people who work, provide and produce. We should focus on that. How can we help them to produce something or work at something and earn some money?

I have seen so many projects where, when a woman earns the smallest amount of money, she changes. Her family starts to respect her and she is empowered, although I am not fond of that awful word. She says to herself, “This is my money. I earned it”. Some women in a village who did bits of work that an NGO gave them and then sold that work told me, “It’s so wonderful not to give every penny to my husband. If my child wants something, I can buy it for him or her”. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, mentioned Gandhiji’s quote about looking at the poorest, most deprived face and the most miserable one. I can assure noble Lords that it would be a woman’s face because they are the most deprived.

Somebody thought that we were moving forward. We are not moving forward in the poorest parts of the world. We are moving backwards. The situation of women in India is worse today than it was when I was a young girl. It is worse than when I was in my middle years. It is definitely much worse in recent times. It is so shocking to me. I cannot speak for Africa in the same way because I am not so familiar with the decades, but I see the women working all the time. The men are sitting around in the shops chatting and the women are doing all the work in the fields. That is Africa. The women are carrying loads. The men do not carry loads. You see a man walking down the street and he is not carrying anything. You see a woman walking down the road and she is carrying more than you can imagine. If she has a child, the child is carrying. It is quite amazing how that situation has developed.

In India, it is extremely sad. The situation of women is far worse today than it was in earlier days. The whole society seems to think in terms of material things, which is fine because they have nothing. What is happening to women? We talk about women who are trafficked, but all women are, in some way or another, slaves. We are slaves to the family. Not us, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. We are all right, but we are the only ones who are. Women are slaves to their families.

They are mistreated by other women and that is another thing that I should like to mention. Women are not good to each other. Two young men from the University of Durham have just spent a week with me. They told me how bitchy the girls are to each other. One said in a surprised way, “We don’t talk like that about each other. If we have something to say, we say it. But the girls bitch about each other all the time behind their backs”. That is happening in this country. The women say, “But we are not getting on boards”. Women have not learnt how to make the most of their skills. They still compete with each other instead of competing where the power lies, which is with the men. Anyway, that is not today’s agenda.

I should like to touch on something that upsets me a lot, and that is the role of religion. In Africa, Catholics have a very strong voice. What do they say to the women? They say that it is a sin to use contraception: “You must not use contraception because it is a sin”. A woman has 10 children and the man boasts about it, but most of the children do have not enough food or they die of some illness. Is that what should be happening? What are we saying to the Pope? We should be saying, “Open your eyes and look at the lives of the women and children, and then see whether there should be contraception”. The most important thing in a woman’s life at the moment is family planning. With it, she can bring up her children properly because she will have only the number of children that she can feed. This is extremely important.

We say that people will be left behind. People are being left behind now. We will never be able to raise everyone up to any kind of standard. However, if we focus on improving the lives of women, as another noble Lord said, we will find that women are the key. They are the only ones who can bring about change in our world.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I cannot promise to measure up to her formidable indictment of the male half of the human species and her fervent call to women to unite using almost Marxian language: “Women of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains”.

I want to begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Kinnock of Holyhead for introducing this debate with such passion and eloquence. We know of her record in this area. She has done wonderful work over the years promoting the causes not only of the poor in our own society but also in developing countries in general. I would like to use this occasion to celebrate her work.

I welcome the United Nations System Task Team report to the Secretary-General of June 2012, and the Secretary-General’s own report entitled, A Life of Dignity for All. However, both of the reports have one big lacuna: they talk about sustainable development, which they define in terms of economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, but there is no provision for equality or for the reduction of inequality.

I do not want to take up the time of noble Lords trying to rehearse all the facts of inequality that we know about; rather, I want to ask two questions which have not been discussed so far. First, why is inequality a bad thing? Only a few years ago a senior member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet told us that he was completely complacent and undisturbed about people becoming filthy rich. There are many who ask why equality is of any value at all, and if not equality per se, the value in the reduction of inequality. Why is it important? Is it just that some people are better off while others are poor? What is wrong with that? It is part of human nature, part of human history, and part of our circumstances. So I want to take some time as an academic answering the first question. Secondly, if I can persuade noble Lords to my view that inequality is a bad thing, what is it that we should be doing in developing countries? Let me take the two questions in order.

Inequality is a bad thing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is unacceptable because it is unjust. If some are poor while others are rich, it is not because some people work less and others work more. It is due entirely to circumstances beyond their control. Certain handicaps acquired in one generation are accumulated over several, so that the poor man of yesterday is in that particular predicament because of circumstances that he could do nothing to overcome. The first reason why inequality is a bad thing is because it is unjust, and justice requires that inequality should be reduced, and ideally eliminated.

The second reason why inequality is a bad thing is that it divides human societies into two different species, the privileged and the underprivileged, and there is no common life between the two. In the absence of a common life you cannot have any kind of community. The rich, if they have no sympathy for or do not share any kind of common life with the poor, are not going to pay higher taxes. This is what people have found in lots of developing countries but not just there—even in our own society the rich will not part with money, simply because they do not have the same degree of sympathy for the poor or share a common life with them.

The third reason why we can press the case against inequality is the amount of wastage of human resources. An enormous amount of talent goes to waste, which leads to distress. It is crushed. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about one half of the human species, women. I would say: what about 99% of the poor and underprivileged, and many others, who would be able to contribute so much and yet cannot because they have no opportunity to do so? This is one of the greatest indictments of inequality—it violates human dignity and human essence and creates a situation of enormous frustration and distress.

Another reason why inequality is unacceptable is that it leads almost inevitably to public disorder and conflict, because the poor do not simply accept their predicament as God given. They are bound to protest, in small and large ways. If you cannot openly undertake a revolution, you can subvert the system in small ways here or there, and as a result social order is vitally disturbed. I could go on answering this particular question because I think it is very important. Lots of people I have spoken to, in government and elsewhere, simply do not understand why inequality is a bad thing—they say either it is natural or it is a result of contingency and factors we cannot control—so I have spent about four minutes trying to explain why it is a bad thing.

If we are right that it is a bad thing, what should we be doing? I want to put half a dozen important ideas on the agenda and I hope that the Minister will have the time to address at least one or two of them. The first thing is the abolition of tax havens, which destroy not only developed societies but the large developing societies, because the rich find it very easy, quietly and conveniently, to stack away huge amounts of money. India, for example, must have lost billions of dollars through people passing money into offshore accounts. The first thing we need to do is tackle tax havens.

The second thing we need to think about is stronger regulation of global finance. The international financial institutions privilege the rich and the developed countries and make it very difficult to create conditions in which the developing countries can flourish. That is also closely tied up with the idea of a regulatory regime for corporations, because many of these corporations, as we know in the case of raw materials in Africa and Latin America, plunder the developing countries and simply do not allow them to function, because they do not have any resources left.

We should also take a close look at intellectual property laws, which make it very difficult to ensure that developing countries have access to essential medicines, which, thanks to intellectual property laws, are frightfully expensive. Lots of diseases in developing countries that could otherwise be tackled are simply not tackled.

Finally, we also ought to be thinking in terms of improving access to western markets for developing countries. Here, I think we have gone fundamentally wrong by developing a growth strategy which is basically skewed. When we talk about economic growth or economic development, we are simply thinking in terms of total GDP or per capita income. We should be encouraging the view that economic growth should be people based, it should be job friendly and it should value equality or at least a reduction in inequality.

In India, for example, after liberalisation a small number of people have become enormously rich and lead a kind of life that westerners would find deeply distasteful, and a large number of people—at a rough calculation, between 30% and 65% of the population—are poorer than they were. That is because the growth strategy, largely based on global demand for IT, produces a lot of wealth for a small number of people but there is no manufacturing where jobs can be given to people. Developed countries have an obligation to encourage the correct kind of growth model, especially one in which people are able to make their own input.

My Lords, in welcoming this debate and thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for introducing it, I add my congratulations and thanks to her for all the work she has done on development issues—over several decades, I suspect.

The first report by the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, published in June 2012, recommended:

“A vision for the future that rests on the core values of human rights, equality and sustainability”.

Looking at the current state of the world, one might as well ask for the lion to lie down with the lamb. Despite modest advances since the millennium development goals were set, it is going to be a very hard task indeed, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren we simply must face this challenge.

I must get this off my chest: I find all the reports I read on tackling inequality somewhat irritating, full as they are of goals, targets and indicators. The best one yet is “disaggregated data”. Can you have a target for disaggregated data, or a goal? I do not know. Sometimes I wonder what on earth they are talking about, or if they even know what they are talking about. They all say what should happen but are very short on how it should happen.

The briefing from Bond, which I found very helpful, suggested that economic inequality should be tackled by including it in the overall framework and not letting it be solely the concern of national Governments, which is something that the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, addressed. The former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, has proposed that a goal should be set so that by 2030 the post-tax income of the top 10% of the population is no more than the post-transfer income of the bottom 40%—discuss. Has anyone told George Osborne? But for inequalities to be ironed out we must also have universal public services. People are entitled to healthcare and education opportunities.

How is this to be achieved—by taxation? For taxes to be raised, people need to have an income and we have heard from many noble Lords that people in developing countries do not have incomes. What income the country has is often siphoned off into Swiss banks, tax havens—offshore this and that. The rulers siphon off the money before it reaches the people. Should the post-2015 framework include something on tackling corruption? I think it should. It is a very serious issue.

As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, I have a suggestion—more than that, a solution. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, has already referred to me in this context. The solution is really a very simple one. If we look at all the statistics and indicators—yes, and disaggregated data, if we must—produced by international authorities and academics all over the world, we see that no country has improved its economy and hence the well-being of its population without first stabilising population growth. It is a theme that I refer to over and again, I know, but it is true. It was always thought that it was the other way round: that once a country became prosperous, people would limit their family size, but it is not so. To stabilise population growth, yes, we need to make voluntary family planning available. No coercion is required, just readily available contraception supplies and advice. Women must be allowed to control their own bodies and fertility. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has alluded to that. It is a basic right of womankind to be able to control their bodies and the number of children they bear. We must discourage child marriage, on which our group has recently produced a report. I note with pleasure that Gordon Brown is now working hard on this issue in northern India and Pakistan.

By controlling their fertility, women can access education for themselves and their children, thus eventually adding to the workforce, to the potential for their country and to their own self-esteem and position in society. It is a provision that politicians in the developing and the developed world have tended to ignore until the recent initiatives by our own Government. I am proud that it is our own Government who have made family planning and maternal health so important in development issues, and indeed have achieved the target of spending 0.7% of GNP on aid.

Many women in this country whom I talk to have forgotten how important family planning provision is, and how important it is for women to be able to control their own fertility. They have got it; we have taken it for granted; nobody thinks about it any more; so it is not high on many people’s agenda. However, there are more than 220 million women worldwide who would limit their family size if only they had access to contraception. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, alluded to religion being a factor in this. Yes, indeed, it is. I have to warn noble Lords that the influence of religion in these issues is rising again. On 10 April, there is to be discussed in the European Parliament what I think is called a “citizens’ initiative” which has come from the religious right all over Europe—they have gained enough support to get it debated in the European Parliament—to ban any aid from the European Union being used in any way for the destruction of an unborn child. That includes, as did the ban imposed by George Bush, not just provision of safe abortion but counselling about abortion and, in many cases, contraception too. All those programmes are as one. If you provide family planning services, you are also able to advise people on abortion. This initiative means that those funds will be cut. It is very serious that people should be seeking to curb what is the most essential form of aid we can give if we really care about development.

Free from endless childbearing and ill health, women could do so much to iron out inequalities in their countries, whether it is gender inequality or the inequality between the rich and the poor. As we have heard, women are the poorest people in developing countries. Two-thirds of the world’s poorest are women and they own only 1% of property.

By all means, let us insist that the new post-2015 framework tackle inequality by including considerations of ethnicity, of marginalised groups and of economic injustice, but let us not forget—and I am glad to say that our Government have not forgotten—that the most important thing of all which must be writ large in the post-2015 framework is the sexual and reproductive rights and empowerment of women.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Kinnock for initiating this important and timely debate. The OECD estimates that between 2000 and 2010, 83 developing countries achieved growth rates equivalent to double the OECD average, but that this growth has not necessarily been inclusive. Going back only 15 years, there were just two dollar billionaires in India; now there are 46. The $176 billion total net worth of the billionaire community has climbed from 1% of GDP to 12%. That is enough to eliminate absolute poverty in India twice, with enough left over to double spending on the country’s shockingly underfinanced public health system.

What is happening in India is part of a wider pattern. Almost half the world’s wealth, totalling $110 trillion, is now owned by just 1% of the population. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the past 30 years. Developed economies with a fraction of the global population use about half of global resources and are responsible for 77% of all global emissions. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, within countries, the vulnerable poor cluster in areas where climate change has a disproportionate impact, such as flood zones and dry rural areas. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock said, crucially, inequality is an issue that affects not only the global south but the global north, too. Between 1980 and 2007, the top 1% of Americans nearly tripled their share of the total national income from 8% to 23%.

Inevitably, tackling inequality will require confronting the root cause of discrimination that both drives and compounds such disparities in wealth. As we have heard in this debate, the most persistent and pervasive form of prejudice is gender inequality, but inequalities can also occur across urban-rural divides, or have different ethnic, religious or racial group dimensions. Discrimination on grounds of disability is also a critical factor fuelling inequality, as my noble friend Lord McConnell highlighted.

The conclusions of the recent session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women are a significant contribution to this debate. It concluded that gender-based discrimination, including the denial of the rights of women and girls, remains the most widespread driver of inequalities in today’s world. Gender-based violence, taking many forms, is a major element of this massive and continuing failure of human rights. What specific actions will the Government undertake to meet the challenges identified by the CSW, both domestically and internationally?

As we heard, when inequalities overlap they reinforce each other and create unique forms of discrimination and exclusion. Interventions to address the symptoms—for example, chronic poverty—will be undermined if the root causes are not also addressed. My noble friend Lord Parekh asked why inequality is a bad thing. He was right to highlight those issues. High levels of inequality generate considerable costs for society—weakening demand, restricting social mobility and undermining the labour market prospects of vulnerable social groups. Inequality is a key driver of financial crises, halting economic growth and fuelling economic instability. As we have heard, wealth inequality is also an engine of protest and instability, and a primary cause of political unrest.

A recent Oxfam report asserted that, given the scale of rising wealth concentrations, opportunity capture and unequal political representation are a serious and worrying trend. Both the Arab spring and the anti-World Cup riots in Brazil stemmed from public protest over high unemployment, increasing poverty and growing inequality. Widening gaps have accompanied progress towards the MDGs as Governments, in a bid to meet targets, have been guilty of targeting the lowest-hanging fruit. The common use of averages and aggregate data in MDG reporting and the lack of the data needed to disaggregate results by class, wealth, gender or race meant that emerging inequalities have remained unnoticed. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, will not be offended when I say that I hope that those issues are now much more apparent. It is when we disaggregate that we understand what is really behind the figures.

As my noble friend Lady Kinnock said, we have made progress under the MDGs. However, as Kevin Watkins of the ODI stated,

“data on progress has tended to divert attention from the disparities beneath the national averages. The disparities linked to wealth, gender, ethnicity and other markers for disadvantage have in some cases increased even as countries progress towards the 2015 goals. This is incompatible with the spirit of the MDGs. ‘Leaving the last to last’ is not compatible with a rights-based perspective. Moreover, inequality has emerged as a powerful brake on progress towards the MDGs”.

Although the high-level panel report makes a number of references to inequality and to a commitment to leave no one behind, no explicit inequality goal or target is suggested. Instead, the report recommends that data collected to mark progress on meeting the targets be disaggregated by specific groups.

I do not share the opinion of the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. Like many others, the Labour Party was extremely concerned by the HLP statement that economic inequality is a matter solely for national policy and should therefore be excluded from the framework. The post-2015 development agenda is intended to be a single, unifying, global agenda. That means that whatever targets and goals we agree will be equally applicable to our work in the UK as to our work internationally through DfID. It is therefore crucial that our domestic and international approaches are both complementary and mutually reinforcing. For those of us on these Benches, tackling inequality complements not only our opposition to corporate greed but our promotion of responsible capitalism and Labour’s belief that our UK economy, just as our global one, must work for the many, not the few.

The UK Government should use their role in the ongoing negotiations to ensure that the post-2015 framework specifically tackles economic and other inequalities within countries through goals, targets or other mechanisms. Tackling inequality across the board will require a transformation shift in aid delivery. In education, the challenge then becomes not just universal provision but a focus on quality. In trade, it is not merely the provision of jobs but of labour market policies that allow for the role of trade unions, a minimum wage and measures to tackle the growing informal economy.

With decisions on the post-2015 agenda fast approaching, we are reaching a critical juncture. Decisions made now will shape the next generation of aid and development. More than this, they will shape the opportunities and life chances of the next global generation.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for securing this debate. It is extremely important that we keep proposals for the post-2015 development settlement high on the agenda. I also thank noble Lords for their tributes to DfID. I am very proud of the fact that, after years of promises and aspiration but of never achieving this, we have finally reached 0.7% of GNI on overseas development. It was announced today that that has been achieved for 2013, and we have done that in a period of austerity. This reflects the fact that we recognise that we are all interconnected, as noble Lords have conveyed so very well.

It was almost 15 years ago that the international community came together to agree some simple, powerful objectives: that no one should live on under $1.25 a day; that denying girls an education was not acceptable; and that the terrible scale of deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS had to be addressed. These things, among others, were targets which, it was agreed, could be tackled together—and the eight millennium development goals were born. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, for his key role in devising the MDGs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, so clearly showed, these goals were historic: an unprecedented set of promises to the developing world, which have served to mobilise and galvanise us into action over the past 13 years. Like other noble Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the many organisations and NGOs which have been working in this area and made such a difference.

As the deadline for the MDGs approaches, we can cite many achievements: visible improvements in all health areas, getting children into primary education and halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. However, as other noble Lords have said, we know that there is no room for complacency. While some countries have made incredible progress in the past 20 years, others are lagging behind, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has just made clear. Within countries, progress also often failed to reach the most vulnerable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, pointed out: those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, ethnicity, disability, caste and where they live.

The point of the MDGs was to tackle huge inequalities and need. Some of that has been addressed but we still have much to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed out, inequalities persist through generations, waste lives and, as he argued, lead to instability. Across the globe, approximately 1.2 billion people are still living in absolute poverty. These people are the most vulnerable, the most marginalised and the most difficult to reach. There is a clear danger that they will be left further behind. The United Kingdom is committed to an ambitious agenda post-2015 to eradicate extreme poverty and build shared prosperity for all. Addressing inequalities is critical to meeting this ambition. The high-level panel, co-chaired by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, called for no one to be left behind. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to this. This premise must be included as a central shift in the new agenda and has resonated internationally.

This is about learning from the MDGs: there is broad agreement that the focus on average progress in the current MDGs masked the very uneven progress across different countries and population groups. The existing MDGs did not provide sufficient incentives to tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality, or to search out those who are hard to reach. As my noble friend Lord Chidgey made clear, inequalities meant that the MDGs were not achieved universally.

The UK supports the high-level panel’s focus on leaving no one behind as a central shift in the post-2015 agenda. We support a stand-alone goal on girls’ and women’s empowerment, and on mainstreaming gender and other dominant inequalities being addressed across the framework. Many noble Lords have mentioned this area, but of course there is no country in the world —no country—that has full gender equality. My noble friend Lady Jenkin made such a cogent argument for that stand-alone goal on gender. Gender must be mainstreamed and have a stand-alone goal, for all the reasons that she gave. She is absolutely right that we will not be able to eradicate extreme poverty if we do not advance the economic, social and political rights of girls and women. My noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also made that extremely plain.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was right about the situation of women in so many parts of the world. I, too, have seen the effect of women being able to earn just a little money, as she says, and how transformative even that can be and how much independence it can give. We also need to continue the battle to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are respected. She emphasised that, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge.

We recognise, as many noble Lords will know, that the longer girls spend on education, the later they have children and the fewer of them they have, and those children are more likely to thrive and prosper. I thank my noble friend Lady Tonge for her tribute to what DfID has done in this area.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, spoke about the CSW. I was pleased that there was agreement here and that the proposition of a stand-alone goal was accepted. However, what seemed to me to serve as a warning was how hard it was to prevent things going backwards. We need to work across parties and indeed across countries to ensure that that does not happen.

It is of course very important to track success across all the goals and indicators using disaggregated data. I understand that that word was rather difficult to pronounce, but my noble friend Lady Tonge will know from her scientific training that conclusions need to be based on evidence, which must be studied, analysed and taken apart—disaggregated. Women have often been aggregated with men, so disaggregation we must have, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also emphasised.

I agreed very strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that good data and evidence will be critical if we are to move this forward. Targets should be considered achieved only if they are met for all relevant income and social groups, so addressing inequality must be incorporated, as she and others have said, across the goals. We are also calling for the inclusion of zero goals in some areas of the new framework—minimum standards that must be met for 100% of the population.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey highlighted the situation of older people. That is why we need to take this approach: we need to look right across at the causes of inequality and improve opportunities for all. That is why we have to disaggregate the materials.

The UK supports goals on transforming economies, governance and peace that tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality. My noble friend Lady Tonge emphasised tackling corruption, and that is included. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, pointed out, for all the MDGs’ strengths, there was not enough focus on the devastating effects of conflict and violence and the importance of strong institutions and accountable government. The noble Lord made a powerful point about the importance of addressing factors such as climate change, which is the context in which people will increasingly be living. He will know that the high-level panel recognises the importance of tackling climate change, and we wish to see climate integrated across the framework, complementing the UN framework for the convention on climate change.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made some very interesting points about the problems with inequality stifling aspiration, undermining peace and good governance and being basically unjust, and why we are doing this in the first place. With regard to his questions about tax havens and so on, I point out that we support better global and domestic tax regulations. It is very difficult but it is something that we have put on the international agenda and are trying to move forward. We are also pushing for better land and property regulations and for improved access to markets. That is right across the board, not only for those who are already well off. The noble Lord is right: we need to have sustainable growth which benefits all across society.

Tackling inequality must be at the heart of the new agenda but, as discussions on post-2015 continue in New York and beyond, and as we advocate for a concise and compelling new goals framework, it is not clear—as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and others pointed out—that a separate stand-alone inequality goal would achieve as much as a cross-cutting push. I think a consensus is emerging on that.

Whatever goals and targets are agreed, be they on health, education, sustainable development, peace or water and sanitation, they need to have “leave no one behind” embedded within and throughout them. Equality must be at the heart of the new framework, as we learn from the MDGs. That remains the highest priority for the Government as we work for that single framework.

There seems to be a consensus that addressing inequality must run through everything about the replacement for the MDGs. The MDGs were developed because there were huge inequalities between life chances and length of life in developed countries and developing countries. The MDGs need to be replaced with measures to bring with us those who have proved the hardest to reach because they are in fragile countries or because of their gender, social origins, disability or other factors. We need to work together to ensure that we deliver meaningful and effective goals to replace the MDGs. There has to be a real risk of not achieving that. As my noble friend Lady Tonge warned us, we have to face up to that risk. That is why I welcome the support of all noble Lords on this agenda.

House adjourned at 7.31 pm.