2015 – The year the world works together to end poverty

This week in Plenary saw the launch of 2015 as the European Year for Development; this is to focus the minds of MEPs and the work of the Member States on development issues and how we can all work together to end poverty.

We are now 15 years on from the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were adopted in 2000 and designed to be achieved by 2015. These goals included the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of universal primary school education, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, the reduction of child mortality, the improvement of maternal health, ensuring environmental sustainability, developing a global partnership for development, and combating dangerous diseases.

So where are we on achieving these goals?

We are still working on them. While the MDGs have made a concrete difference to the lives of millions of the poorest people around the world, more than one billion people still live in extreme poverty, 800 million people suffer from extreme hunger, 750 million people rely on unsafe drinking water, nearly 60 million children are without full primary education, and 1.6 million people die every year from AIDS.

We need to act now to reduce these figures and enable all people to live a life of dignity.

The EU is the largest donor of official development assistance in the world and Europe needs to take the lead in global talks to set new goals for the elimination of poverty, in all its forms, all over the world. As Labour MEPs, we will be pushing hard for action at EU level – Development Aid must continue to be at the heart of EU policy.

It was a Labour government who established the Department for International Development in 1997. It was Labour who tripled the budget for international development and it was Labour who committed the UK to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income (around £11.1bn in 2015) on Official Development Assistance.

I am proud of Labour’s commitment to development aid and I will continue this proud tradition at EU level.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) I am keen to look at ways the EU’s R&D funding can help investment in global health research. Whether it is by developing vaccines, looking at how certain diseases are treated or adapting patent protection on proprietary medicines, investment now can lead to new treatments and medicines that can end the tyranny of many diseases for future generations.

As we can see with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, humanitarian and development aid is crucial to mobilising a medical response and preventing the spread of disease. The European Commission pledged more than €149.2 million in humanitarian and development aid to countries affected by the disease. Working with partners on the front line, including the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the International Red Cross, EU funding was crucial in helping trace people who came into contact with Ebola patients, setting up treatment centres, supplying medical assistance, staff and protective clothing, and securing the safe and reliable transport of medical staff and supplies.

The EU can and must continue funding vital services like this. But Development Aid must not just be about crises and big news stories – it also needs to look at on-going issues, such as poverty-related diseases, that may not get the same headlines.

In March I will host an event with the Let’s Save Lives campaign on World Tuberculosis Day. The event will focus on TB, but will also look at the broader and interconnected issues around poverty-related and neglected diseases such as HIV & AIDS and malaria.

I want to see the EU and its Member States working together with developing countries to combat poverty-related diseases like malaria, TB, HIV and AIDS. These illnesses account for millions of deaths every year, the majority of which are in low and middle-income countries. These deaths need not happen – we need the political will and the funding to stop these diseases being a death sentence.

The New York summit in September will offer an opportunity to renew the MDGs. We need to use this opportunity to push for further actions to end poverty and inequality in all its forms.

MEPs must put pressure on their governments to commit to this. But it is not just the EU that needs to act – the whole world needs to work together to set, and reach, ambitious target and end poverty across the globe.