Celebrities 'hijacked' poverty campaign, say furious charities

Maxine Frith,Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 27 December 2005 01:00 GMT

Charities issued a harsh critique of the Make Poverty History campaign yesterday as they assessed its impact at the end of 2005.

The campaign, led by a coalition of 540 organisations, was launched amid fanfare on 1 January this year with a pledge to narrow the gap between the world's rich and poor. Yesterday, aid workers told how it had been "hijacked" by celebrities at the expense of real achievements in securing sold debts, aid and trade deals for the developing world. Events at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July, attended by the campaigner Bob Geldof, attracted some of the strongest criticism.

Aid workers said that pledges announced by Tony Blair at the summit were not being carried out and that hardly any had yet to translate into real money. At the summit, 18 of the world's poorest countries were promised that their crippling debts would be cancelled by the world's richest nations. But six months later, no details have emerged of the debt cancellation plans.

Following the G8 Summit, Mr Geldof praised the Labour Government, giving them "10 out of 10" on debt relief progress and "eight out of 10" on aid issues.

But Aid workers were critical of the way in which Mr Geldof appraised the summit, with many organisations saying that the pledges were too little, too late.

Dave Timms, a spokesman for the World Development Movement, said that Mr Geldof's comments were misleading. He said: "The Make Poverty History Campaign was perhaps bravely naive and there were some good elements in that it raised public awareness. But people like us who have been campaigning for 30 years felt that some of the real issues became overshadowed by the hype.

"There are celebrities who really didn't seem to know what they were talking about and Bob Geldof's comments after the G8 were very unhelpful, because they made people think everything had been achieved."

He added: "There was some progress on debt but we have yet to see any of those pledges translated into a penny for the poorer countries and there was no progress on trade.

"The other problem we had was that the Labour Government managed to get into a position where they said that they were partners with the movement, when in fact there are many issues, for instance on trade deals, where we disagree strongly."

Richard Miller, from the charity ActionAid said: "Pledges have been half-hearted and there has been recent back-sliding on aid and debt commitments. The pledges sounded good and they will make a difference but they should have been greater.

At the G8 Mr Blair also made much of the pledge that Britain would increase the proportion of GDP in the developing world to 0.7 per cent by 2013.

But Mr Timms said that some Scandinavian countries had already reached this target and that France was set to achieve it before the UK. He pointed out that raising the proportion to 0.7 per cent would only bring Britain up to the level of spending that it was at during the Callaghan era. Mr Timms said: "We are going to spend the next eight years getting back to where we were four decades ago -I don't really call that progress."

More than 15 million people in Britain bought a white wrist band in support of the Make Poverty History Campaign and a clutch of celebrities featured in television adverts for the movement.

But many charity workers believed that the campaign became hijacked by the Live8 concert promoted by Geldof and that the message got lost in the hype. Mr Miller said: "It now transpires that up to 2008 almost all of the aid increase will be Iraqi and Nigerian debt relief, most of which wasn't being serviced.

"As for what happens between 2008 and 2010, the US is openly doubting the feasibility of its aid commitment while German and Italian finance ministers have said that they do not regard the target [of doubling aid by 2010] as binding."

Campaigners are also concerned that cancelling debts will be linked to "free trade" demands that will benefit western countries at the expense of the poorer countries they claim to be helping by scrapping subsidies that poor farmers in the developing world desperately need to survive. Even Oxfam, one of the prime members of the MPH movement accepts that the G8 pledges have not gone far enough.

A spokesman said: "There has been some progress and what you have to remember is that 2005 is when many people became involved in campaigning like this and became aware of the issues for the first time.

"We believe that these pledges, if they are honoured, could save the lives of 12,000 people a day but it still means that 38,000 people a day will be dying as a result of poverty. We have to keep up sustained pressure on the Government to honour its current pledges and to go further."

An audit by MPH accepted that more progress needed to be made on ensuring that western countries did not impose crippling new trade deals on the world's poorest countries.

A spokeswoman said: "Real progress has been made but we do not stop here - the challenges continue."

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