Tackling Inequality through targeting the ‘Furthest Behind First’

How to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for everyone

Speakers will focus on the Sustainable Development Goals' leave no-one behind principle and how it can be operationalised by the international community, including through the EU. Using a Furthest behind First lens, the session will explore the challenges and opportunities in addressing inequalities through policy and programming. Ireland’s new Policy for International Development, which places the Furthest behind First at the centre, will be addressed. Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme and how it has transformed the lives of millions of Ethiopians will be presented. The Overseas Development Institute's report, "Financing the end of extreme poverty" and OXFAM's ongoing work on its Reducing Inequality Index will be presented. Inequalities within the global food system will be discussed.    

Key points

  • Aid must be targeted at the people who need it most.

  • Taxation can play a major part in tackling inequality.

  • A transformative approach is essential to promote gender equality.

  • Young people and citizens must be involved in decision-making.

  • By 2030, 80 % of the poorest people will be living in conflict states.


Getting finance to the people who need it most is a key challenge for development aid programmes. The United Nations has set a target of allocating 1.7 % of gross national income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 2030. Some countries are clearly doing this better than others. Ireland, seen as a success story in putting the “furthest behind first”, gave EUR 181 million in ODA in 2017. Reaching 130 countries, its ODA programme is regarded as one of the world’s best. Myriad examples of practical aid include cooperation with Malawi to provide free cookstoves to the 10 % of the poorest households. Ireland has also given 800 scholarships to girls in rural Zambia to enable them to attend secondary school. Ireland chose the session as a “fantastic time and place” to launch its A Better World policy for international development. This highlights that aid must go to the people “furthest behind” instead of ending up in middle-income countries (MICs). Indeed, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) September 2018 report, Financing the End of Extreme Poverty, said the fact that 60 % of the “extreme poor” live in MICs must not be used to justify 66 % of country programmable aid going to these states. This fails to factor in that they have 10 times the level of taxation resources per person. Aid allocations must be rebalanced, focusing on countries that even after maximising their own taxation can least finance their public spending to end extreme poverty. Over the next five years, aid to the least-developed countries should increase from 30 % to 50 % of all ODA. It is also essential to identify where the poorest and most marginal people are, as they are often invisible to donors, governments and policy-makers. Many programmes are still developed “blind”. Notably there is a clear mismatch between the supposed “growing economy” – when this growth is neither inclusive nor “falls into the pockets of citizens”. Governments must implement a fair tax system to promote equity and greater spending on health, education and social welfare. The ODI said an extra USD 2 trillion dollars can be raised by low- and middle-income countries, and “enormous resources are out there”. Finding work is also essential, particularly in sub Saharan Africa. In Ethiopia, there are more people aged under 30 – 72 million – more than in the whole UK – and they need jobs. It may be a truism, but unless unemployment is tackled it will be difficult to stop poverty. Gender inequality is another big issue – with improvements only being seen now. Oxfam wants governments to promote tax systems to address inequalities and it is also demanding more investment in essential services such as health and education. There are basic women’s rights. Finally, everyone should be involved in decision-making. Citizens need to know their rights and responsibilities as they have the power to influence people. They can monitor taxes and ensure that governments allocate money where it is needed. Young people should also be made to feel more welcome “around the table” at high-level international discussions on poverty so that knowledge and experience can be shared. Finally, despite progress made, by 2030, 80 % of the poorest people will be living in conflict states. Stopping poverty is much more complex than providing resources. In recognition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended its members do better in joining up development and humanitarian aid and invest more than the current 2 % in conflict prevention.


If all countries spread their net as wide as Ireland to help people overcome poverty and are as generous in investment aid as Sweden and the UK, poverty can be stopped.

Organised by


Tom Arnold
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland
Kaba Urgessa
State Minister
Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Marcus Manuel
Overseas Development Institute
Sophie Healy-Thow
Irish Aid
Aidan Fitzpatrick
Senior Development Specialist
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland
Susanna Moorehead
Joseph Okecho Olwenyi
Coordinator-Financing for Development
Oxfam Uganda