UN at 60+: Will it ever Make Poverty History for the One People of the World
Start Date: 22nd Feb 2006
Start Time: 00:00

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Lecture given by: Mr Tony Colman (former Chair, UK Parliament UN Group)

Given at Methodist Central Hall, 22 February 200

Introduction

This oration comes 3 weeks after Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General spoke here to commemorate the events of January and February 1946. Kofi Annan's message was that we are all in the same boat - the human race faces global problems and it makes sense, as it did in 1946, to come together and work out global solutions. I will seek tonight to follow him through the prism of 1946 in reviewing how far we have got 60 years on - will the UN ever make poverty history for the One People of the World?

1946

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Assembly is opened" And with that statement, the first UN General Assembly went ahead on 10th January 1946, opened by Dr Zuleta of Mexico.

The Methodists had been moved out 2 months before - originally to the Victoria Palace with Me and My Girl with Lupino Lane playing Monday to Saturday and now Dr Sangster on Sunday. Then as the Theatre was too small for the congregation of 3000+ they moved to the London Coliseum with the Bar serving as the venue for the Sunday School.

The Trustees had been none too happy despite the compensation on offer, but Ernest Bevin had sought to woo them saying, "there could be no better place for the Assembly than the House of God with the atmosphere of prayer already there".

The UN Preparatory Committee had been using Church House in Deans Yard and it is there that the first meeting of the Security Council took place on January 19th, 1946.

But the Methodist Central Hall covenant service that January, took place in what Dr Sangster described as "the gilded ballroom of the Carlton Hotel".

Dr Sangster and the Dean did not get on well. There was no sharing of premises. The various elements of Central Hall spread to the Wyndham Ashley Mission, the Baptist Church in the Horseferry Road and Caxton Hall but not across the road. The Abbey does however feature in the archives. Bevin wrote to Atlee on 16th January under the heading -

Service of intercession at St Paul's Cathedral 20th January 1946

He says:

"I have been considering the question of a religious ceremony to mark the opening of the General Assembly of the UN.

In view of the many different religions represented in the Assembly it would be difficult to suggest the UN makes the arrangements for a service, as part of their official proceedings. For this reason I rejected a suggestion which was made to me some time ago for a formal inaugural service in Westminster Abbey.

I do not think that the same objection would apply to a Service of Intercession, which might suitably be held at St Paul's Cathedral, as being a more national centre of worship, than the Abbey which has a Parliamentary and Governmental character."

But the phone number for the first Secretary General was Abbey 7033.

The Charter had been written and adopted the previous June in San Francisco with its ringing phrases that

"We the peoples of the United Nations determined

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

And for these ends

To employ international machinery for the provision of the economic and social advancement of all peoples."

And the UN should promote:

  • higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development
  • solutions of international economics, social, health and related problems; and international, cultural and educational cooperation and
  • the universal respect for an observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction, as to race, sex, language or religion.

Article 60 gives responsibility to discharge these functions to ECOSOC - the Economic & Social Committee of the UN General Assembly.

The Preparatory Committee meeting at Church House in December 1945 and January 1946 put the flesh on the bones of ECOSOC setting up an Economic and Employment Committee which was to:

  • promote worldwide full employment and the coordination of national full employment policies.
  • the prevention of economic instability
  • the urgent problems of economic reconstruction, and
  • economic development of under-developed areas.

"And the Economic Development Committee would require expert advice on the long term development of production and consumption throughout the world and in particular on:

  • the methods of increasing production, productivity and levels of consumption in the less developed regions of the world.
  • the affects of industrialisation and technological change on world economic system and the adjustments required."

It proposed the split of countries into 4 categories:

  1. Raw material producing countries
  2. Manufacturing countries
  3. Consumer countries
  4. Countries which have suffered from abuse of drugs and from illicit traffic.

An interesting world view which resonates today.

Alongside these mechanisms came strong rhetoric -

The King spoke at a Banquet for all the delegates at Greenwich, 9th January 1946:

"You possess the machinery appropriate to the great problems which now confront you - to take practical measures to instigate and finally overcome the hunger and destruction which the war has brought to so many people, to increase and make secure the economic and social welfare of all peoples".

"Not all these things can be accomplished at once, but it is for you to set humanity upon the right path to accomplish them. Never did men have a greater or nobler duty".

This was only slightly marred by a report in the Sunday Despatch Newspaper that delegates had stolen pieces of the gold dinner service - a story dismissed by the FO on the basis this happens all the time - and Lord Castlereagh lost his gold watch at the Treaty of Vienna Conference. The Louisville Courier Journal of the US made a suitably modern comment in saying it "deplored the journalistic habit, of ferreting out all the conflict, thus tending to present an international conference as a series of crises and impasses."

There were crises and impasses -

The Russians very early on sought to block the appointment of M Spaak as Chair but it went through. British diplomacy appears to have worked well to ensure the appointment of the judges to the International Court of Justice - and votes on the membership of the 6 committees went smoothly. Trygve Lie was appointed as the first Secretary General.

Only 51 countries were represented and had major problems getting here. The National Archives at Kew has 3 large files solely devoted to the travel arrangements for delegates - across war-torn Europe, by boats and planes across the world, taking up to 3 months on their journeys.

You could say that the poor had no delegates - but of course nearly everyone then was poor coming out of a horrendous world war that had made virtually every country poor. But there was concern that the old order - of governments, not true representatives of the people, dominating the new United Nations - while welcoming the involvement of USA and the Soviet Union who had both boycotted the League of Nations. American newspapers, as Jack Straw has said, called the General Assembly broadcast across the world as the "town meeting of the air to marshal the moral and spiritual forces of mankind on the side of peace".

But people wanted change. One Effie Hummeston of 5 Molland Road, Leeds pressed for a universal world language to be used for General Assembly dialogue.

Mr F K Einsch of The Orchards, Verwood, Dorset, said, " it was desirable to create a status of world citizenship forthwith and this status to be granted to any human being regardless of race, nationality or creed". Such a grant to be based on a qualification of education in World Citizenship, and Literacy in one of the official languages of UNO.

"A world citizen owes loyalty to the country in which he is living but not allegiance."

"If that could be achieved, all menaces, dangerous ideologies and above all, all barred frontiers and regimented groupings into chauvinist regions and nations, will liquidate and eliminate themselves," he said.

Bevin didn't know what to say in reply. He first of all wrote, "Noted with interest". He however scratched this out on his draft reply, writing, "I don't like saying this as it arouses false hopes and encourages more". So Mr Einsch got, "I acknowledge the receipt of the letter".

Mrs Edward (sic) Bixler of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom lobbied for a "world constitutional convention (as) our only hope where all the peoples of the earth have a voice. "This Big 3' stuff playing power politics - as they have done after every war - holds not a ray of hope to the People."

"I hope (we) go on past their pretentious UNO, and call a world constitutional convention. We have war, because we get ready for it. We can have peace much easier and with one millionth the expense; if we get ready for peace. We have got to do it or else."

Foreign Secretary Bevin separately said, "Personally, I am ready to sit down with anybody of any party, of any nation, to try to devise a franchise and constitution for a world assembly to keep the peace - an assembly elected by peoples not governments."

He spoke in the House of Commons in favour of a world parliament that would watch over the governments and potentially override them. Sadly he subsequently withdrew this view.

Back at the Assembly, the delegates in their spare time were offered the choice of West End stall seats at Arsenic and Old Lace, and the Hasty Heart - top Box office plays of the time.

The women delegates (and only the women delegates!) were offered, at the suggestion of Herbert Morrison, a choice of visits:

  1. visit to bombed London - 5 constituencies of Wandsworth
  2. visit to County Hall - to see the Abercrombie plans for rebuilding London
  3. day visit/weekend visit to Bristol to allow to see typical example of great city and the effect of bombing.

It is not noted what the male delegates were offered instead!

The founding documents of the UN envisaged that the World Bank and the IMF would be agencies of the UN and report through the Economic & Social Committee. But no moves on this took place in London - and it never happened.

Interestingly, the American delegation at the Assembly were ëanxious that the Trade Conference be called under the auspices of the UNO. That never happened either - and the WTO was not set up until 50 years later in Marrakech in 1995 but it was then under the democratic principle of one country one vote - a principle that was so much desired by the delegates of 1946. Again not agreed was the wish that the position of refugees and internally displaced persons moving across the world should be a responsibility of the United Nations. The Soviet Union delegation argued vociferously against this happening.

But the reconstruction of those countries recently devastated by war - and the peoples involved living in grinding poverty was a priority of ECOSOC, not simply the US munificence of the Marshall Plan but the UNRRA mechanisms for the distribution of aid. Incidentally, the American Aid to the UK equalled the UK spend on Defence for 1946 - not as great as is sometimes suggested.

The Third World was largely unrepresented with the exception of South Africa whose delegate spoke of the need to understand that economic solutions to the poverty of Africa were not easy to resolve. The UK Dominion and Colonial Offices sought to represent what was still the British Empire.

The Chinese delegate, Mr Wellington Koo asked that human rights be placed first as an issue on the ECOSOC work plan. "If the world is to enjoy lasting peace, the dignity of man must be respected as the first principle of the new order". I am sure that is still the view of the Chinese delegate in 2006.

The General Assembly finished its work on the 14th February 1946. There was a proposal that the permanent site of the United Nations be in Hyde Park, but the need to tie the USA into the UN won the day and alternative bids from Philadelphia and New York were seen as the likely winners.

British diplomacy (as seen through the selectivity of the FO archives in Kew) ensured success and the foundation of a body committed to the One People concept for the World with all the mechanisms and processes in place. In Bevin's words, "The Great war against poverty, misery and disease which have cursed humanity for so long" had begun.

And Attlee said, "To make this organ (the UN) a living reality we must enlist the support not only of governments, but of the masses of the people in the world. They must understand that we are building a defence for the common people."

"In the purposes of the UN, we have linked with the achievement of freedom from fear, the delivery of mankind from the peril of want. To the individual citizen, the spectre of economic insecurity is more constant, more imminent than the shadow of war. Without justice and security, there is no future for peace, for it is among the socially disinherited, and those who have nothing to lose, that the gangster and aggressor recruit their supporters."

The Central Hall was de-requisitioned on the 9th March and Dr Sangster presided over the ëService of Celebration' on the return from the London Coliseum on 31st March. In the meantime, the Great Organ had been cleaned and overhauled. And Londoners returned to 10 further years of ration books and poverty.

1946 - 2006

The UN for most of the next (and last) 60 years did not treat the elimination of world poverty as a priority.

The 1950s passed with mixed results as the geopolitical battle on the ground between the 2 super powers of USA and Soviet Union led to support not of capitalism or communism whatever the slogans, but the support of leaders of poor countries who would place themselves in either or both camps.

The current George Clooney film, "Goodnight and Good Luck" set in 1953 follows Ed Murrow's fight against McCarthyism and has disturbing echoes about the War against Terror and Guantanemo Bay today. We must not go back to an "us and them" split of the world where the poorest, inevitably, always lose out. "The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars. It is in ourselves".

The Trusteeship Council of the UN - (and the whole decolonisation push) - was masterminded by the UN - and by 1960 most poor countries were on their way out of colonialism - and often with high levels of infrastructure, education and health systems.

The UN called the 1960s the "Development Decade" when countries like Ghana, then more prosperous than South Korea, could industrialise and Africa could become a single common market. I chaired Cambridge University UNA, then 7,000 strong, and organised the first UK- wide Model General Assembly in 1964, when the fervour of Make Poverty History was on display ahead of its time. I then worked in East & West Africa, when there were great expectations of all the people coming out of poverty.

The Brandt commission of 1972 and the UN Target of 0.7% of developed countries GDP going on ODA irrevocably changed the landscape for the poor and led to 30+ years of failed promises from developed countries. But inertia & closed minds in many poor countries, led to elites that simply accepted the Aid, and saw poor people and poverty as an increasingly normal part of their country - impossible to change.

The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and the UN found the logjam in the Security Council and in the Assembly removed. Aid for political support went and the needs of the poor could be at last recognised as paramount.

There followed a remarkable series of UN conferences starting with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. I was delegate to the Copenhagen Summit on Social Development in 1995 which concentrated on the causes of world poverty. (The following year 1996 was the UN World Food Summit dealing with food security for the poor.) It was a very cold February and March - I remember being frozen marching through Copenhagen in the celebration of International Women's Day with my blazing torch setting fire to my coat, having already smothered me in candle grease!

That Social Summit was the first meeting between private sector employers, unions, governments and civil society with the concept of a stakeholder society setting out the rules of what the Chair of the Copenhagen Summit and subsequently Secretary General of ILO, Juan Somavia, called and approved "a market economy not a market society". The Social Summit concluded that employment is the principal means to overcome poverty and exclusion. "In the ILO we have expressed this goal as decent work "Thus jobs, good jobs are the way out of poverty", he said.

The 2005 World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation sponsored by the ILO picks this up emphasising that globalisation could be a positive force for the creation of decent work.

Research shows it is the private sector companies coming into poor countries delivering Foreign Direct Investment that set higher standards of working environment and pay, compared to local companies.

The UN Global Compact set up in 2000 (with UNHCR, ILO, UNDP, UNIDO and UNCTAD) now involves trade unions, civil society and thousands of private sector companies committed to sustainable employment and corporate social responsibility for the poor of the world, endorsing the 10 principles of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The UN meetings since then have fully involved the private sector with country programmes of partnership. The UN Fund for International Partnership (UNFIP) and the UN Foundation is now in its 9th year of collaboration to deliver both jobs and extra resources for the poor. You may wonder why I have given you a minute of speak your weight publicity for the UN and the Private Sector. It is just that you never normally hear about the UN involvement in delivering good private sector jobs for the poor of the world.

According to the UK Department for International Development, the number of people in the world living on less than $1 a day has dropped over the last 20 years from 1.5bn to 1.1bn - an incredible achievement given that the world population grew by 1.6bn during that time. Thus 2 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty! China alone lifted 400m people out of extreme poverty. And the rate of advance is rapidly increasing with +10% increase in GDP in China, 7% in India - and +5% in Africa year on year on year since 2000.

It is FDI and private sector development which has largely done this - as we know from our own experience in the UK over the last 60 years. A 1% increase in wealth means in 70 years wealth will double - a 3% increase means it takes 22 years to double the wealth. Given such growth, our wealth in the UK in 2006 will double by 2029 and quadruple by 2052. When the baby boomers hit age 70, we in the UK are x8 wealthier than the day we were born. And lady baby boomers who live to age 93 will exit a world 16x much richer.

So, in 2006, is all well?

There is another story. This oration is about the One People of the World and people are being left behind. The rising tide does not lift all boats.

This oration is not about HIV/AIDS which continues to make people poor and the UN Global Fund is addressing those needs. It is also not about failed states and insecurity, although this has led to extreme poverty in so many countries - and the UN Peace building Commission, the International Criminal Court, the new UN Human Rights Commission (due to be agreed this week) and the new UNGA agreed ëduty to protect', all show the UN up well in 2006 and boats are being lifted. But this Oration is about the grinding extreme poverty of less than $1 a day.

The $1 per day indicator of poverty comes from the UN Millennium Development Goals. The poverty goal was to halve the number of people living on less than $1 per day by 2015 compared to 1990. That is going to be achieved worldwide with ease - but not in all countries and not all sections of the community.

In much of the world the informal economy gives employment outside the formal economy, way above $1 per day. The BBC Africa Any Questions of June 2005 with an Africa Panel of Speakers poured scorn on the view that African people were in absolute poverty - the only problem is that the real economy was not able to be measured by Western economists.

But what is factual, is the lack of infrastructure and services to deal with the Beveridge definition of poverty - the 5 giants of want, idleness, ignorance, disease and squalor.

The state should have provided these facilities for all, but has not in many countries. The UN Development Programme has worked through governments, in many failing states, but the governments' ability to raise taxes, administer aid from richer countries and pay the teachers and doctors enough to retain them to help the poor, has failed again and again. The Church educated Britain until the late 19th century, and it is only since 1946 that in the UK, Education for all has been seen as a priority, and government provided, through tax.

Ellen Wilkinson, the Minister of Education, and part of the UK delegation in 1946, negotiated the money to carry out the 1944 Education Act to ensure all of the UK could go to school free. I, for one, as a farm worker's son, will always be grateful to Ellen.

As Sam Seaborn, the Policy Head in the West Wing TV series said, "Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything: we don't need little changes, we need gigantic changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making 6 figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet..."

And the Make Poverty History campaign figured out the answer! - the need to kick-start the health, education and infrastructure costs by doubling aid, and debts from the Cold War period being written off.

However, my concern is that the over emphasis by the UN on the Aid component, crucial though it is, without the equal emphasis, on the way out of poverty, being through the growth of private sector jobs, is not telling the poor, the whole story, of how their lives could change for the better.

A friend has just come back from rural Ethiopia 2 days hard drive from Addis Ababa. She discussed the Make Poverty History 2005 Campaign with Mr Rago the Head teacher of the local secondary school.

She was upset when he said MPH would make no difference. The extra resources would never come because the politicians who received the extra aid would not distribute it down to his school.

The UN and World Bank Country Programmes, agreed with Governments and Civil Society in each country, must take account of the changes - and ensure total transparency as to where the new aid and loans go.

The role of aid in damaging the poor is very controversial. I well remember having a blazing row with Professor (later Lord) Bauer at the London School of Economics in 1966, about the need for aid - he against, me for. He believed that there would be an aid curse (similar to the oil curse) where unaccountable elites would take the aid and not deliver the services. And is that what happened? Is that why the poor in aided countries did not move out of poverty? Have NGOs colluded in what has happened or not happened?

Some $600 billion of aid (at 2006 prices) has already gone to developing countries to very little gain to the poor.

It is interesting that the country with the most poor - India - has now insisted that if a developed country wishes to give aid to India, it must not go to local NGOs but go through central government budgets in a transparent fashion.

DFID over the last 8 years has moved from funding local NGOs to direct budgetary support to ministries. The Ghanaian education Ministry is directly supported rather than Ghanaian NGOs. And Ghana is accelerating rapidly.

The Faith based organisations have been the main provider for the poor in non communist countries.

In so many poor areas the only provision of education and health services came via the local church or mosque or temple. Little or nothing was provided in this field by central or local government who often do not levy any tax directly on the poor or the rich - and therefore the poor do not expect any provision of services for them.

The church and mosque tithe their poor and rich congregations for their care work and also make small user charges: this model has kept key services to the poor going during the last 60 years.

The challenge will be, how to move from church provided, to government tax provided, services to the poor.

It is interesting the ex-communist countries - of Eastern Europe, SE Asia and China (still nominally communist) - have accelerated fastest in taking the poor out of poverty - where central and local government both financed by local taxes, administered by largely non corrupt civil servants and, now with accountable politicians, have been most successful. The role of the UN and UNDP (and the EU) working without baggage to ensure the transfer of power and influence has been an unwritten story.

Africa seems to be held back by lack of state machinery to deliver services.

But if this Oration is emphasising Trade over Aid and Debt Relief in the pantheon of Make Poverty History goals, what is the UN doing about Trade for the Poor.

UNCTAD, now headed by Mr Superchai, late of the WTO, is working with poor countries on the issues of competition, investment, public procurement and trade facilitation. All of these changes impact positively on the poor - but could undermine the position of elites in poor countries. They were rejected by the G77 at the WTO Singapore mini ministerial as imposing additional costs and removing "policy space" from developing countries. The EU at Cancun attempted to force these issues back on the agenda but failed.

The WTO is not part of the UN as I have said before. It should be. It is more democratic than the UN with no Security Council inner group. It is run on a 1 country, 1 vote basis and has a disputes panel - any country can bring a case against another. It has elements of the world government hankered after in 1946.

It is labouring to achieve the so-called Doha Development Round. The poorest countries already have duty free and quota free access for all their production into EU. The phase out of agricultural export subsidies will be achieved by 2013. There was agreement (not noticed by the media) for the phase out of all subsidies on other Natural Resources such as Fish and Forestry at the end of this Doha Round.

Aid for Trade - to cover the income currently coming from import barriers into poor countries has gone through. Intellectual Property Rights costs on necessary drugs have been waived. I do not believe that the deal so far would have legally stuck with the existing UN formula of decision-making. This comment is sad but reflects the real politick, I believe, of the current UN mechanisms.

The cleft stick that the World Food Programme is in, dependent on food exports from USA taken in US ships to the hungry poor, demonstrates the difficulty of an under funded UN Agency. How much better for WFP to be able to buy locally to the famine - say from Ethiopian farmers to feed the hungry of Ethiopia, or farmers in West Kenya, where they have had a good harvest, to the hungry of Northern Kenya today. That way, local farmers benefit not heavily subsidised farmers in USA. I am pleased to say, EU moved from food aid to cash aid to the WFP some time ago.

So in 2006 the picture is mixed. The UN has watched over, cajoled, organised the people of the world to a better life in the last 60 years. But inequality between countries and within all countries remains. The UN uses the most powerful disinfectant - the sunlight of transparency to point out the background of why Poverty is still not history.

Paul Wolfowitz in the 2006 World Bank Report on Equity and Development writes:

"Even the basic opportunities for life itself are disparately distributed: whereas less than half of 1% of children born in Sweden die before their first birthday, nearly 15% of all children in Mozambique fail to reach that milestone. Within El Salvador, the infant mortality rate is 2% for children of educated mothers, but 10% for those whose mothers have no schooling."

When my mother died, she left me the death policy insurance certificate for me she had taken out when I was born, to pay for my funeral expenses should I die, before reaching my first birthday. In 1943 in the UK, that was a very high chance. Thank God, now it is low.

In the last 60 years, the UN has made poverty less, but not history.

In the last 2 weeks at the UN in New York, finishing last weekend, the Commission for Social Development has been reviewing the first UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006) and whose theme has been, "Eradicating Poverty is an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind".

Only 9 non state actors and non UN institutions gave evidence and none from the UK. The International Chamber of Commerce and International Organisation of Employers reaffirmed their support for the overriding goal of poverty eradication. They estimate that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has fallen from over 50% in 1950 to 28% in 1990 to 20% today. They believe the two key determinants for growth and development are domestic policies and international integration and cite the success of China, India, Uganda and Vietnam.

Under Secretary General Jose Antonio Ocampo told the Commission that there was "unprecedented" growth in developing countries. "But growth is not enough - the pattern of growth is equally important, in particular, its capacity to generate decent and productive employment for the poorest sectors of society and its effects on income distribution". Thus, despite the success of the last decade, the Commission has concentrated on those left behind with action designated for youth, those with disabilities and the old.

And each year on from the Copenhagen declaration of 1995, the UN each February will be reviewing, cajoling and acting for the poor of the world.

The key note address this February was by Clare Short in her first speech since leaving Government and DFID. She said that delegates had met at a major turning point in human history, "For the first time ever, we are capable of removing abject poverty from the human condition. The current intensification of global economic integration has demonstrated that there is enough knowledge, technology and capital to bring development to all the peoples of the world.

The final statement of the Review has agreed, for the next 2 years, the UN will concentrate on full employment - decent jobs for the One People of the World.

The Next 60 Years

So if that is the position 60 years on from 1946, in 2006, where will we be 60 years on in 2066?

By then I do believe that the Absolute Poverty will be History for the One People of the World. Relative poverty - compared to the richest in the global society and within the nation state, will remain - as it does in Britain today. But will the UN be central to achievement of the defeat of global poverty?

To answer that question, I look at my own life - the son of an agricultural labourer, born in the 1940s in a tied cottage over 200 years old with no electricity, no clean water and no - what we would now call - sanitation. The welfare state - the reforms of the 1940s saved me - a NHS and universal education system. And Methodism and the Labour Party ensured a disadvantaged child with no earners in the family got on.

What ensured all the Tony Colmans could get on, once they lived healthily and were educated? As I have said, I believe it was the ability of wealth creation to become acceptable in the UK - and around the world, thus driving employment for all, and a tax base which could fund further the education and health services, and dividends to pay for the pensions of the old.

If 2005 was the year of the civil society around the world demanding more aid and more debt relief and no trade dumping from the developed countries, so 2006 is the first year for many a long time for the re-emergence of a consensus that the combination of private sector investment with the reassertion of the role of the enabling state. The 6 speeches made by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, in the last 2 months, opening up the debate on Eradicating Poverty ahead of the June 2006 white paper echo this change of emphasis. But the caring state is crucial to always watch and discipline the private sector, in its drive for economic growth, to ensure it is fair and equitable to all people.

So where does the UN fit in for the next 60 years?

The UN Global Compact has been signed by all the major companies of the world and this needs to be built on. UNIDO - the UN Industrial Development Organisation - has expanded now to 90 poor countries and is utilising the skill and knowledge base of India and China financed by US and European ODA.

But how do we speed it all up? It could take to 2066 to achieve the MDG in some countries if it is business as usual. The Colman wish for UN intervention is as follows:

A To have a meeting of UNGA in 2007 at which representatives of all the private companies of the world both transnational corporations and national companies state how they could expand their operations sustainably and quickly - and to have a further follow-up meeting of governments to agree the actions needed to ensure this happens, to review the road blocks. The World Bank 2005 report on the number of days it takes to set up a business in each country would be a starting point.

B To return ECOSOC, the first committee of the General Assembly, to the role envisaged in 1946 to ensure good full employment for the people of the world. As part of this drive, ECOSOC should engender immediate action in 3 areas - statistics, land ownership and tax levies.

  1. Statistics:

In 1946, the founders saw the need for a statistical committee: however there is still a problem. The MDG are set upon shaky statistical grounds. The birth of a baby may be celebrated, but is often not registered - similarly with deaths, and the cause of death. The idea of a census is unusual. Nigeria is about to have its first census since 1960 and the guesstimates of its population vary by 20 million. In some countries, nobody has any idea of how people survive.

The informal economy provides an income well in excess of $1 per day. As I have said, the BBC Any Questions programme, held at SOAS last June, with a panel of Africans vociferously made this point. Africans are not always poor in the extreme hopeless way portrayed in the Western Press. My experience in the 60s, working for Gailey & Roberts in East Africa and Kingsway Stores in West Africa, selling to citizens of those countries, and now with Africa Practice and African Venture Capital Association, demonstrated this. And the 2005 UN Year of Microcredit has spurred millions of small entrepreneurs wanting to better themselves.

  1. Land Ownership by citizens:

The second commission I would like ECOSOC to set up would be on land ownership. Professor De Soto has advocated this is the central reason for the success of the private sector in developed countries - and it is interesting that China has moved on this to allow land ownership by citizens in urban areas. Land title is crucial to providing collateral for the banking loans to the poor. I remember well the joy of Kikuyu women in 1965 when they received not only title to their land but also the bank loan for seeds, fertilizer and equipment that they needed to till the land. The loan was predicated on the land title: interestingly, by the time I left in 1966, all the loans had been repaid!

Land title as a positive driver for change was left out of the analysis in the Commission for Africa report because it was seen as too contentious. It should be faced up to and land redistribution be on the basis of full market compensation. But it should be noted that in some countries well over 50% of the cultivable land is owned by the state and could already be distributed either freehold or on 999 year leasehold.

  1. Tax levies and Government Accounts Transparency:

The aid provided over the last 60 years to many poorer countries seemed to have been wasted - often recycled back to London and invested in property within 10 miles of Westminster. The additional aid flows are needed to kick-start the provision of health and education provision for all - at the moment in poorer countries the poor pay huge proportions of their income to providers of health and education and appear to be pleased with the services they get - but rather like my childhood, if there is no money, the child goes untreated or uneducated.

But we do need to plan the change from a budget dependent on aid to one raised from local taxes. As I have said, I am always surprised at how little tax is paid by people in poor countries other than those in the civil service - who tend to make up the difference through corruption.

When I first wrote this three weeks ago, I thought the idea would be greeted with boos. However, the unholy Alliance of the Financial Times, Christian Aid and the New Economics Foundation has also supported this view in the last week.

India is bringing in VAT across all its states covering 1.1 billion people. Income Tax and Property Tax also have come in. India is not reliant on oil and gas royalties, and it appears to me that the democracy India has enjoyed has led to a successful economy which has taken some 300m out of poverty in the last 10 years, and this has been at its root, based on tax levies.

I was in Kerala 2 years ago - it alternates between Congress and Communist control - and was impressed by a health system and education as good as the UK.

Kerala's tax income is also dependent on remittances from Keralans living abroad. The diasporas of the poor need to be encouraged, protected and ultimately rooted back to their home villages if they so wish.

The role of remittances came to me forcibly on a recent visit to Somaliland. This section of Somalia originally known as British Somaliland, has had a fully functioning state basis since 1992 and is doing well. It receives almost no aid at all from the rest of the world, yet is doing economically very well on the back of remittances and a democratically elected accountable government.

  • That brings me to my third big move by the UN - after the UNGA for the Private Sector to deliver jobs for the world, the 3 new areas of work for ECOSOC - and now thirdly, the UN should have within it the IOM - International Organisation for Migration.

This is on the agenda for the September 2006 UNGA. You will remember that in January 1946, Russia vetoed this being in the founding institutions of the UN - and since then almost every recipient country has refused to support it.

There are very clear Human Rights conventions relating to the rights of the people who move between countries but almost no receiving countries have signed the conventions. The UNHCR has a clear mandate when refugees are in a different country from the country they have fled from. However, it and the UN has to date had no mandate to deal with IDP (internally displaced persons) who form the vast majority of migrants in the world. This for instance gives UNHCR great difficulties in dealing with the crisis in Darfur. The new "right to protect" agreed at the 2005 UNGA is a move in the right direction and needs to be tested.

If we truly believe in the concept of One People of the World, we must accept the right of people to have the same opportunity to achieve a higher standard of living in the country of their birth or in the country they choose to move to.

If we believe poverty eradication can happen through fair trade in products why not in fair movement in peoples across the world. A start would be to give dual nationality to all those who wish it - for both their country of origin and the country where they live.

  • My fourth and last move for the UN to Make Poverty History way before 2066 would be to plan, 15 years after Rio, an Earth Summit for 2007. I have been recently reading Jared Diamond's book "Collapse", which attempts to identify why civilisations in the past 3000 years have collapsed again and again. There are clearly 2 paths the world could go down - to destruction and collapse or to achieve the vision of those who met here 60 years ago. The potential for environmental and ecological destruction of the Earth as we know it, is accelerating.

Clare Short in her speech to the UN last week agrees - she said, "Things will probably get worse before they get better but it is not until we accept that we have to share equitably and build a way of life that is sustainable that we will be able to secure our future on this planet."

The China Modernisation Report 2006 from the China Academy of Sciences predicts the end of poverty in China by 2050 - and the move to clean energy technology to enable it to happen and combat global warming. The Dongtan Eco City work to establish a pattern for future ecologically sound urbanism should bear fruit by 2010 and be the basis for the 500+ new Chinese cities from 2010 onwards. India will follow.

It is not too late. The vision of Rio carried forward to Johannesburg at the Rio +10 conference in 2002 set forward under the UN the 3 elements of world sustainable development - environmental protection, economic development and the most important for this oration, social equity - the equality of the One People of the world.

The concept cannot be top down but must be bottom up from each small community as laid down as Agenda 21 in Chapter 28 of the UN Rio Treaty.

At the halfway point to the 2015 Millennium development goals benchmark, later this year, the UN under its new Secretary General, potentially female, and from East Asia, must set its course for making poverty history.

I believe the map and compass for that course will come from a new institution due to be launched this May in Switzerland. This is the World Futures Council - to bring together the leaders of elected and unelected civil society. Porto Allegre and Davos - and it could provide the moral leadership the world so greatly needs.

I hope to serve on the Council as I served on the UN Poverty think-tank, "the International Forum for Social Development" between 2002 and 2004, which was organised by Jacques Baudot who spoke last week at the UN on behalf of the Triglav Circle:

"I have the privilege to address this UN Commission on behalf of the Triglav Circle, an organisation created to promote the core message of the World Summit for Social Development, which is a humanist message on the centrality of the human person, object and subject of all public policies, national and international, social, economic as well as financial."

He said and I agree with him:

"Since the Rio conference we know that current patterns of production and consumption are not sustainable. But we do not have the courage and the imagination to conceive and implement the type of economy and society where human energy and creativity would be geared towards harmony with the self, with others and with nature, rather than being applied to the search for power, expansion and domination. Simplicity, moderation, wisdom should become the mottos of our efforts at creating a better world.

In sum, the struggle for the reduction of poverty ought to be replaced in a struggle for justice, for solidarity, and for the search of a renaissance of the human spirit.

In this context, we see with great satisfaction that the UN Secretariat has proposed employment as the main theme for the work of the Commission in the next two years, 2006-8. Employment, decent work, respect for labour standards, and, more generally, human work - in French "le travail humain" -, are subjects at the core of social development and of this renaissance of the human spirit that we are calling for."

But I believe we also need to remember the words embroidered by an Ethiopian lady onto a wall-hanging at the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa:

"I don't want to be wealthy - just valuable".

What should Westminster Abbey do to achieve these ends? The Abbey uniquely brings together the Monarch, Government, Parliament, the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Covenant - and Civil Society as we saw last April in the glorious affirmation of the Make Poverty History campaign at the Abbey:

These One People Orations need to continue each year to measure the progress as latter day Savanarolas telling uncomfortable truths.

By this time, the Abbey will have wondered why they ever invited me as their Savanarola Orator given my controversial views and challenges. But then I am a Methodist in the tradition of John Wesley whose statue by Samuel Manning was rejected by the Abbey in 1848 because he was a "factious character".

Perhaps that needs to always be the benchmark for a One People Orator

Bibliography

UN/UNDP Reports 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

UN Economic & Social Development Websites

(44th Session Commission for Social Development: Review of the First Decade for Poverty Eradication, Feb 8 - 17, 2006)

World Bank: World Development Report 2006, Equity & Development

OECD Feb 2006 Going for Growth

FCO Documents (National Archives at Kew) Jan/Feb 1946

China Modernisation Survey 2006 (quoted in www.guardian.co.uk/china)

Herbie Girardet & Jacob von Uexkull World Future Council

Jagdish Bhagwati In Defence of Globalisation

Patricia Curry: Ecological Ethics

Jared Diamond Collapse

Thomas Friedman The World is Flat

Jeremy Leggett: Half gone

James Lovelock: The revenge of Gaia

George Monbiot The Age of Consent

C K Prahalad The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Linda Starke (ed): State of the World 2006

Peter Boane Effective Intervention: making aid work

(Article in Centrepiece (LSE) Winter 05/06)

Shamit Saggar Dividends of Diversity

(RSA Migration Cm Report 2006)

Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb 2006

Reforming the World Bank, Jessica Einhorn

Recovering Sustainable Development, David G Victor

Newsweek Feb 20, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Europe, Fareed Zakaria

George Clooney Film script "Good night and good luck"

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