Sumner raises profound questions

Inclusive Economy20 Dec 2010Amy Pollard

Andy Sumner’s research on the new bottom billion has been on the lips of almost every development professional I know for the last few months. The revelation that 75% of poor people might actually live in middle-income, rather than low-income countries has implications right across the policy spectrum. It forces profound questions of what development work is about and how it can achieve its goals.

An extremely positive outcome of the research, in my view, is that it reinforced the argument that we need to think deeply and carefully once again about how much aid Britain should give to different developing countries. The old “90-10” split of aid investments between low-income countries and middle-income countries now looks hopelessly outdated. As issues of poverty and injustice in our world become more complex, there is no doubting that our aid policies must become more complex to address them (spoiler alert: CAFOD will be working on these issues in the New Year).

I would argue that the moral case for aid (and for pro-poor international policies more broadly) is actually strengthened in this context. There is a long vein of Catholic Social Teaching stretching back from Encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 and Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, where the concern was firmly about poor people in countries of all kinds. Such a focus might be extremely helpful in terms of aid effectiveness. If we aim to support poor people; rather than poor countries, much of the geo-political wrangling and power games that surround aid flows will be changed.

In wider terms, Sumner’s research gives a powerful illustration of something we knew already – that aid flows will only ever be a small (but important!) element of any successful efforts to tackle to poverty and injustice. Trade flows, tax regulations, the private sector, market justice and a host of other issues have a much greater impact on poverty issues, and especially on levels of inequity in developing countries.

For too long, rich countries have been judged on whether they have been ‘doing their bit’ for the poor according to how much aid money they have given. We now need to analyse across our foreign, business, trade, aid and security policies to ensure the North is acting to support poor people, wherever they may live.