Challenge to Put People First remains

Progressio and tearfund supporters on the way to Hyde Park

When the G20 world leaders came together in London in spring of 2009, the world was in the process of being pulled back from the brink of finanicial destruction.

The previous famous gathering was of the G8 at Gleneagles at which the “Make Poverty History” campaign was directed.

This time, in the same spirit, a range of organisations – charities both at home and overseas, trade unions, churches – all joined together under a common banner. The banner was called “Put People First”. It asked the G20 to put a concern for the poorest and marginalized people at the centre of their decision-making.

In particular, Put People First (PPF) called for an overhaul of the global economy to deliver jobs, justice, and a safer climate. PPF wanted an explicit recognition that this wasn’t just a banking or a regulation crisis, but a structural crisis of the entire economic model. The meeting was an opportunity to rethink our whole approach to economics and global structures so that we could tackle poverty and build a more just and equitable world.

The aims were

* To deliver democratic governance, the PPF asked for the government to tackle tax havens, insist on fundamental reform of the World Bank and IMF, and increase accountability of financial institutions, financial markets and multinational companies.

* To deliver decent jobs and public services for all, the PPF called for a green new deal, a strengthening of public services including social housing, and sufficient emergency funding for developing countries without conditionality.

* To deliver justice and end global poverty and inequality, the PPF asked the government to honour its commitments on aid while cancelling illegitimate and unpayable debts, ensure that developing countries could manage their economies, and stop pushing financial services liberalisation and deregulation.

The crowd at Hyde ParkThere was some success, but the opportunity to look at different economic models, revised regulation and investment in a green economy was lost. In the light of current spending cuts, this feels like a different world.

Like Make Poverty History, many thousands of church people joined the campaign. We saw that there was a strong biblical basis for the desire to “Put People First”. We saw that this was an opportunity for the needs of the poor and oppressed to be put first. We recognised the Old Testament laws that required those with power to take action and the chance to put in practice the New Testament imperative to “love ones neighbour as oneself”. We understood that creation is God’s sacred work and that environmental commitments were ways to put stewardship into practice. We recognised that Christians are called to be prophetic and that this was an opportunity where our voices needed to be heard.

I spoke at the G20 church service and addressed the thousands of people gathered at Methodist Central Hall. I ended my speech by saying: “We join in a common call for a new order, a new economics, a new world, that puts people first and that puts the poor first.”

That challenge still remains, the problems highlighted by PPF remain today and require a remedy. It is no good to simply continue on, seeking to put the wheels back on a busted wagon. There needs to be a new democratic global green economy established with human and environmental sustainability at its heart.

Christine Allen, Director of Progressio

Progressio is an independent charity with Catholic roots that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers. And we lobby decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor.

Photo 1: Progressio and Tearfund supporters join the Put People First march to Hyde Park. [Photo credit: Progressio]

Photo 2: The crowd at Hyde Park. [Photo credit: Progressio]