Baroness Jenkin's speech to Unicef at Conservative Party Conference

Our Founder Anne Jenkin addressed a UNICEF fringe event with Conservative Home at the Conservative Party Conference 2016. In her speech she said:

"Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I first of all say what a pleasure it is to be invited here today, and to say what an honour it is for me to be as a Trustee of UNICEF UK. As such I am aware at first hand of the wonderful work UNICEF does throughout the world and also in the UK to support children in need and in danger. Tomorrow I am going back early to London to participate with Mike in a board away day.
When thinking about the dreadful lives of some of the world’s children, the horrors many kids face, some are living with in Syria, in the camps in the region, and closer to home in the Jungle, which I visited earlier this summer thanks to Unicef and Citizens UK, we all feel overwhelmed, impotent, angry, guilty even. But I want to take a couple of minutes to look at the glass half full, on what the world has achieved for children, not only in my lifetime, but in yours.

If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.

We’re hardwired not to believe this. We’ve evolved to be suspicious and fretful: fear and worry are tools for survival. The hunters and gatherers who survived sudden storms and predators were the ones who had a tendency to scan the horizon for new threats, rather than sit back and enjoy the view. They passed their stress genes on to us. That is why we find stories about things going wrong far more interesting than stories about things going right. It’s why bad news sells, and newspapers are full of it.

Let’s take a look at some more successes. Malaria, once but no longer the world’s biggest killer. Today the number of sub Saharan African children sleeping under malaria nets has risen from 2% at the beginning of the century to 55% today. In 1990 just 52% of Sub Saharan children went to school and today it is 82% and rising. In the 1980s as many as 350,000 were crippled by polio and last year, fewer than 100 cases were diagnosed.

So why are these good news stories so hard to swallow? Why do polls show that only 5% of our citizens believe the world is by any measure getting richer? I think it is because people take the world as they see it, and we humans, especially those in this room, those who work in or support this sector, are problem solvers. We focus on what’s going wrong, rather than celebrate what is going right. The average person in this country doesn’t wake up thanking God that he’s not living in a cave, or dying of consumption, or that he is wealthier and healthier than his parents were at his age. He focuses on the next problem and tries to solve it. This grumpiness, this discontent, is the engine of human progress. And it is crucial. Even 1% unemployment feels like 100% unemployment to those looking for work. Those who have feared polio can hardly be expected to celebrate its near-extinction; those who suffer have every right to ask why that suffering cannot be fixed.

So as the world becomes more prosperous, and as we deal better with poverty, we become less tolerant of it. It is a paradox. A generation ago, there was far more global poverty, yet far less anger about it. As we all get richer we start to care, quite rightly, about the problems than we can now solve. How lucky we all are to live in a country so determinedly playing its part in trying to solve some of the most challenging problems globally. A generous country, leading the world by donating .7 per cent of our GNI to those who need it most. As Conservatives we rightly focus on ensuring that money is spent wisely, but I for one am proud of the difference we are making to the lives of the poorest people in the world."