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UK Can Lead G8 in Striking at Causes of Global Poverty, say Religious Leaders 

Religious leaders from across the G8 countries have called on heads of government to follow the UK in fulfilling existing commitments to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid

More than 70 religious leaders, including leaders from the Methodist Church, The Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church, emphasised in a letter to the Financial Times that from 5 April only 1,000 days remain to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline.

With a focus on tax, trade and transparency, the religious leaders argue, the UK Presidency of the G8 has the potential to advance the MDG agenda in ways that will strike at the underlying causes of poverty, in particular by ensuring the wealth created by developing countries is not lost through unfair tax practices, a lack of transparency or a failure to secure the benefits of trade for developing countries.

The letter was signed by the Revd Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain; the Revd Roberta Rominger, general secretary of the United Reformed Church and the Revd Dr Mark Wakelin, president of the Methodist Conference, alongside a host of religious leaders from countries such as Germany, Japan, Canada and the United States. 'Meeting the remaining targets, while challenging, is possible - but only if governments do not waiver from the moral and political commitments made over a decade ago,' the letter stresses.

The religious leaders argue for a G8 Convention on tax transparency, committing signatory countries to the task of preventing individuals and companies from hiding wealth so that it is untraceable. Furthermore, they call on the G8 to press for greater financial transparency from the governments of developing countries so that citizens can hold their governments to account for the money they spend.

'Development is working but challenges remain,' the letter points out. 'The number of people living in extreme poverty has been halved ahead of time and 14,000 fewer children die each day than in 1990. Yet one in eight people still go to bed hungry every night and more than 2 million die of malnutrition each year.'

The financial crisis may be a reason but is not an excuse for hesitation or deferral, the letter states: 'Reaching a purposeful consensus on these areas won't be easy.

'But, if the political will and moral leadership is forthcoming, this year's G8 could help to create an environment that encourages the conditions for inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth - conditions that are desperately needed if we are to realise the MDGs and even greater things beyond.'

Christian Aid's Senior Adviser on Poverty and Inequality, Helen Dennis, welcomed the intervention from faith leaders.

'The MDGs have guided a huge amount of work to tackle global poverty, but will expire in 2015, precisely 1000 days from Friday April 5, 2013. And there is nothing to replace them,' she said.

'Without a new plan in place, political leaders could relegate tackling poverty to a 'nice to have' rather than a 'must do'.

'It is vital that David Cameron and the G8 make this a priority at their meeting in June, which this year is being held in the UK.

'They need to focus on promoting financial transparency and tackling tax dodging in developing countries which cost them $160 billion a year - much more than they receive in aid.

'The Prime Minister and his fellow world leaders have an opportunity to create a new global plan to tackle poverty and protect the planet.'

* Join the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #1000DaysToGo

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