At the G7 the world’s richest countries should prioritise the world’s poorest children
The Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall will host the 2021 G7 summit later this month | Credit: Alamy
This year's G7 Summit has the potential to be a game changer in the fight against global child poverty.
This month the Prime Minister will host world leaders in Cornwall for the G7 summit. It is a crucial moment for the UK to demonstrate real leadership in tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges, including bringing the pandemic to an end.
Covid-19 has unleashed a crisis for children, with impacts that will last for generations to come. Billions of days of vital education have been lost and global poverty is on the rise as a result. The G7 summit, therefore, could not come at a more important time. It provides the most powerful countries in the world with the opportunity to turn things around for the world’s poorest children.
As the host of the G7, the UK can lead the way in creating a Real Recovery Deal. This would protect a generation of children from the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 crisis and promote long term shared prosperity. To achieve this, the Prime Minister must put children’s learning, their nourishment and ensuring an equitable global Covid-19 vaccine rollout at the heart of his agenda.
Ahead of the summit, individuals and communities across the country have been taking part in the #WaveOfHope as part of the Crack the Crises coalition, which represents over 12 million British citizens advocating for a better future for people and planet. You can find out more about the coalition and see a constituency breakdown of activity here: https://crackthecrises.org/.
As the UK’s domestic vaccine rollout goes from strength to strength, supporting the world's poorest countries to also access vaccines must not be seen as a ‘nice to have’. Global vaccine coverage helps protect the efficacy of domestic rollouts. It mitigates the risks of vaccine resistant variants which could lead to a resurgence of infections and devastating human and economic costs. As leading epidemiologists have set out in the BMJ, the phrase ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ is not a slogan but a scientific fact of great relevance to G7 citizens.
Save the Children’s recent analysis estimates that for every $1 invested in securing global vaccination coverage through ACT-A, the G7 will collectively avoid around $35 in economic costs. Moreover, national polling shows that two thirds of the British public support sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses internationally. There is a clear economic, as well as moral argument for the world’s richest countries to share vaccine doses and significantly contribute to the financing of such efforts.
G7 leaders must also urgently share a proportion of ordered doses with COVAX in line with redistribution principles. 1 billion doses need to be shared by September, with G7 countries playing a crucial role, so that poorer countries can at least vaccinate their health workers and the most vulnerable.
The UK also has a critical role to play in tackling the secondary impacts of Covid-19. The pandemic has triggered a global learning crisis, and girls are most adversely affected. Save the Children’s analysis suggests that 10-16 million children are estimated to be at risk of never returning to school due to the pandemic.
The Prime Minister has long been a champion of girls’ education, and the UK has continued to use its G7 presidency to cement its global leadership on this issue. For instance, at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in May the UK launched the widely welcomed Girls’ Education Declaration.
Later this summer the UK will also co-host the Global Education Summit: Financing Global Partnership for Education (GPE) 2021-2025. The Government has a leading diplomatic role to play as the co-host of GPE to mobilise global finance to meet the $5 billion target for the next five years – the sum needed to address the scale of the global education emergency. Even within the context of a temporarily reduced aid budget, it is realistic to hope that the UK itself will contribute £600 million to GPE to help foster strong and sustainable global education systems.
The UK has the opportunity to play a crucial part in turning the tide and tackling these challenges head on
Even before Covid-19, 144 million children under five were stunted and 47 million children under five were wasted. The pandemic has caused significant disruption to already strained health systems, including essential nutrition services. Undernutrition can weaken the immune system and inadequate early nutrition undermines cognitive development, which can damage educational attainment in later life. This makes nutrition essential for achieving the UK's girls' education and health priorities.
2021 is the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action and the G7 summit is a crucial opportunity to mobilise global efforts to ensure sustainable and reliable commitments for nutrition. As the driving force behind the creation of the Nutrition for Growth facility, it is particularly vital for the UK to lead by example when it comes to making its own financial pledge.
Impact of aid cuts on the UK’s G7 presidency
Despite all the opportunities for the UK at the G7, the scale of the reduction in overseas aid has the potential to eclipse the gains made. For instance, spending to tackle malnutrition is set to be 80% less than in 2019, whilst financing for girls’ education – a personal priority of the Prime Minister – will be cut by up to 40%. These two examples are only a snapshot of the staggeringly deep cuts that have been made to the UK’s support for the world’s poorest people.
Whilst many other G7 nations are increasing their aid commitments, the UK is alone in rowing back on its promises. For the Prime Minister to host a G7 which demonstrates real leadership on the world’s toughest challenges, he needs to keep the UK’s promises on aid. It is essential that the UK immediately reverses its decision to abandon its commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI as overseas aid.
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a crisis of epic proportions, turning back the clock on global poverty reduction. Without bold and urgent action, the consequences for children and their futures will be devastating. The UK has the opportunity to play a crucial part in turning the tide and tackling these challenges head on. We urge the Prime Minister to seize this opportunity and lives up to his own ambition that the UK will be a force for good in the world.