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Building a constituency for poverty reduction

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:15

Barbara Stocking
, Director of Oxfam
Paul Dornan, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Tony Worthington, MP

1. Tony Worthington opened the session by briefly noting that it was necessary to build a constituency for poverty reduction as development issues often got squeezed out of discussions and policy making. He further noted however that the UK had what he believed was the best NGO community in the world which was working on development issues and on creating a constituency for poverty reduction.

2. Barbara Stocking then took the floor and started by showing a short video about the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign. Given that the statistics spoke for themselves, Barbara Stocking did not attempt to address the issue of why it was necessary to make poverty history but instead concentrated on why it was necessary to build a global constituency. She argued that this was necessary as leaders would only act if they were motivated to do so by their people. Building a constituency was therefore about getting leaders, especially politicians, to commit to poverty reduction.

3. Barbara Stocking then outlined what was necessary to build a constituency and summarised this into three points:

1)      There was a need for the public to be convinced that poverty was a problem. In the UK, people were beginning to see this, partly because they were sickened by poverty and partly through the recognition that security would not be realised where conflict, generated by inequality, existed. The recent Tsunami illustrated that people in the UK did care about development issues, even when those concerned were across the other side of the world. This response could be argued to be down to the fact that the Tsunami was a sudden natural disaster, it was not obviously affected by the complexities of development and for many, the region represented a holiday destination. Barbara Stocking argued that building a constituency for poverty reduction was therefore about making the link and relationship to poverty more real.
2) The second element for building a constituency was that people needed to believe that something could be done about poverty. Barbara Stocking noted that people were beginning to understand that something could be done and illustrated this point with the success of debt relief in Africa which had increased primary enrolment in some countries. Whilst examples like these did not detract from concerns about other issues, for example corruption and conflict, they did illustrate that progress was indeed possible.
3) The third element was relating to all people from all walks of live. Barbara Stocking noted that celebrities were a useful means of doing this as they were able to command sizeable audiences. To illustrate for example, Chris Martin's (Cold Play) support of the 'Make Trade Fair' campaign had resulted in 70% of young people knowing that he was linked with the campaign and that trade as an issue.

4. Barbara Stocking then went on to highlight that in order to campaign effectively, messages had to be set out clearly and a significant problem faced by coalitions and campaigns was the need to simplify the message to the satisfaction of all partners. In the UK for example, the coalition was seeking movement on trade, aid and debt as a simple message, but more detail was needed to what was necessary against each of these issues. It was necessary to get the headline and underlying messages across and the media could be used as a valuable tool to do this.

5. Barbara Stocking then explored issues related to building a constituency on a wider basis. Some issues, such as HIV/AIDS treatment campaigns could be relatively small scale and spearheaded by fewer organisations. The MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign needed a much larger movement however and involved NGOs, faith groups and trade unions. There was a need for a critical mass behind the call. Barbara Stocking noted that it was not easy to build this coalition though because there was a need to agree the front line issues. In relation to this, there was a need for a broad enough umbrella to incorporate all the messages so that all interest groups were represented. This required a lot of work and negotiation.

6. Barbara Stocking continued by noting that the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign was the UK chapter of the broader Global Call to Reduce Poverty. Generating an agreeable consensus on a global level was even more difficult as more stakeholders were involved. Many stakeholders in the South for example, felt that from their perspective governance should be added to the trade aid and debt of the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY coalition's call.

7. Barbara Stocking then briefly outlined some of the events and mechanisms that the coalition was using to raise awareness. The television programme 'The Vicar of Dibley' had included the theme in one of its Christmas shows. In addition, the wearing of white bands was another way in which people were able to demonstrate their support for the call. The whole campaign had been launched by Nelson Mandela on the 3rd of February who then also attended a closed meeting of the G7 finance ministers.

8. Barbara Stocking then addressed the question of whether these sorts of efforts worked. She used last years work to get the British government to increase aid in the build up to the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign, as an example that it did. Tony Blair was targeted to increase aid with the hope that he would lead his G8 and EU counterparts to do the same. Through the use of public and constituency campaigning and the use of celebrities, aid was increased by $1 billion. While the G7 meeting perhaps didn't go far enough, a framework for debt relief was agreed, illustrating another example of the success of campaigning.

9. In taking the work forward, Barbara Stocking noted that different parts of the message would be made public at different times to coincide with other processes. For example the trade justice week, comic relief week and World Action days. On these days everyone would be encouraged to wear white bands in support of the call. These days were to be 1st July, just before the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, September 10th just before the Millennium Summit and the review of the MDGs and another to coincide with the trade justice ministerial in Hong Kong at the end of 2005. Already 150 million were signed up to the call and the momentum was expected to build.

10. Barbara ended by noting that while it would not be easy, if globally people felt that they were part of a coalition, then anything could be done.

11. The floor was then handed to Paul Dornan who began by stating that his focus would be on the CPAG's experience in the UK. He continued by unpicking the issue of building a constituency for poverty reduction by reflecting who this was make up of. The public? Influencers (NGOs, media)? the Government? And where the focus was, the UK? EU? UN? developed countries? developing countries? He raised concern that efforts to address all groups would not be easy, picking up on an earlier point by Barbara Stocking, and was dependent on resource availability.

12. Paul Dornan then went on to question whether the issue was about building a constituency or of mobilising one that already existed. He argued that there was a public and political constituency that recognised -to some extent- that problems existed across the world and that we were all responsible for both causing/exacerbating the problems and for being part of efforts to rectify them. He felt that 'mobilising' was a more positive way of addressing the issue and fitted into another key point, that of sustaining long term effort and pressure.

13. Paul Dornan then briefly went on to discuss a little about the CPAG and the UK debate around poverty. Essentially, he noted that the CPAG was a pressure/campaign group and a relatively small membership organisation (less than 4,000) and a staff of around 35 that was not very well known amongst the general public, but much better recognised within government and political circles. CPAG's main focus was on raising awareness of the causes and experience of poverty, bringing about positive change for families with children in poverty and enabling those who were eligible for entitlements to take these up. The CPAG was also part of a larger coalition known as the End Child Poverty coalition.

14. In terms of the UK debate around poverty, Paul Dornan noted there had been a very substantial increase in the levels of social division and poverty through the 1980s and early 1990s and significant increases in the extent of inequality. The change of government in 1997 had however changed the nature of the UK debate which was assisted by having a target - a public service agreement - to reduce and eradicate child poverty. Pensioners had also been specifically targeted. Significant progress had also been made through employment measures and redistribution (through tax credits) though not all poorer groups had gained equally. Paul Dornan noted a particular criticism that had been consistently raised about this approach was that it had been 'redistribution by stealth' or that there had been an unwillingness to take up the public argument around poverty reduction. This he noted as a significant weakness in terms of justifying the required expenditure and also in terms of sustaining progress.

15. Paul Dornan then summarised specific lessons that he would draw from the CPAG's UK experience. Firstly, having a target to end child poverty was enormously helpful for calling actors into account in the context of a base line that the government itself had chosen. Secondly, the target worked because it was clear who was to be held accountable to achieving it. Thirdly while the government was responding to the public and commentators concerns, the debate was vulnerable to the political stance of the government and was thus more top down than bottom up. Finally, the comparative success of the campaigning had had an effect on media coverage of the issue.

16. Paul Dornan then turned to consider poverty in the developed and developing worlds and noted that there was a key need to fit concern about how the poorest were treated in both the developing and developed worlds. He noted that this was a difficult line to develop because it was a nuanced argument. For example, the fear from the UK perspective was that drawing attention to the extreme absolute poverty that existed in the world allowed many in the UK to relax about conditions at home. There was a need to 'set our own house in order' while tackling the extremities of the problem abroad. Further, he noted that there was always the tension that policy concern for poorer people in the UK might impact negatively on developing countries and vice versa.

17. While there were differences in the debates Paul Dornan noted that there were also similarities, often derived from extreme inequality. The key message therefore was the need to emphasise extreme inequality between nations and within nations making the problem partly about development and partly about distribution. Paul Dornan argued that the emphasis of the debate needed to be on human dignity.

18. Paul Dornan then turned his attention to the scope for the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign. He believed that there was lots of scope if the resources were in place. He also argued that there was a need for strong solid lobbying with a clear and consistent voice which MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY seemed to be doing. He noted the importance however of sustaining this effort if the MDGs were to be achieved. He also argued that success required the stakeholders to remain consistent, committed and joined up and that the key would be to sustain the pressure and build long term links. He also stressed that government support could not be taken for granted and neither could 'progress'.

Nambusi Kyegombe
February 2005


Building a constituency for poverty reduction amongst the G8 and the economic and policy elites in developing countries is a challenge.

This session examined the role of different stakeholders, including international NGOs in mobilising support amongst the public, elites and the international community, and debates whether without this support, the MDGs can be achieved.

Committee Room 9