Martin Drewry is Director of Health Poverty Action, he writes here in a personal capacity
Ending global poverty is not about providing aid. It is about politics. The solutions to mass poverty lie in tackling its unjust causes, not relieving its symptoms through charity. Deep down, anyone who works in development knows this.
Yet if this is the case, why does the aid budget dominate development discourse so disproportionately? And – most importantly – how should a Labour government address this?
Health Poverty Action, along with 12 other African and UK NGOs, recently published figures that show the relative significance of aid as a financial resource flow to sub-Saharan Africa.
The research reveals that Africa is losing $192 billion to the rest of the world each year. This is across a range of areas – such as debt payments (often following irresponsible loans), repatriation of profits by multinational companies, illicit financial flows, and the costs of adapting to climate change that Africa did not cause. When compared with all the inflows into Africa – including loans, foreign investment and remittances – the continent suffers a net loss of $58 billion to the rest of the world each year.
And the total sum of aid it receives? A mere $30 billion.
This means the amount the rest of the world takes from Africa each year is roughly 6 and a half times the amount it gives back as aid. Yet this vital fact gets lost amid all the rhetoric about aid – which paints, instead, a distorted picture of an impoverished Africa reliant on the charitable generosity of its northern benefactors.
This in turn leads to growing public animosity towards the aid budget, especially at a time of domestic austerity. It can generate the same kinds of public emotions and perceptions that fuel the rise of UKIP. Why do they still need our financial support after all these years? What’s wrong with them? Why should we spend all our resources supporting foreigners?
If people know the truth, the emotions and perceptions generated lead to a totally different place. Why is the rich world still ripping of the world’s poorest after all these years? Why hasn’t it been stopped? It’s outrageous!
This understanding puts ordinary people in the UK on the same side as ordinary people in Africa, after all, they get ripped off by the powerful too . It also directs the political debate away from how generous we can continue to be, towards how we create a fairer world. In short, it puts the real solutions to mass poverty onto the public and political agenda.
A Labour Development policy that truly distinguishes us from the other parties must stop this focus on aid and charity. It must instead expose the truth about the rich world’s financial relationship with Africa, and set out an inspiring agenda to tackle it.
The Labour Party can do this, it’s what we live for. And we have done it before.
It was a Labour government that took an international lead on the issue of debt cancellation – one of the few times in history that a government has dramatically placed one of the key structural causes of mass poverty at the heart of its development policy.
And we can still think that way. Ivan Lewis, in a 2012 Labour conference speech, called for “Big global economic and social change” and set out a “social contract without borders” based on social justice. This was followed by the Post-2015 Vision for Labour Equality 2030, delivered in a rousing speech: “Progressives didn’t come into politics to explain the world as it is but to change the world.”
The notion of development as the pursuit of social and economic justice was similarly championed by Jim Murphy when he set out the role of DFID under Labour – in a speech encouragingly subtitled Development and Power. This was echoed in Labour’s recent policy consultation document, again emphasising development as an issue of justice and human rights.
Yet, despite all of this, the idea of development as primarily a question of how much aid we give through DFID is still central to most Labour policy communications. Indeed, aid occupied the top spot in the list of Labour responses in the policy consultation, and dominated Jim Murphy’s recent contribution to an event on tackling global inequality. In a recent campaign action organised by Health Poverty Action, members of the public wrote to Ed Miliband. They were calling for an end to this misleading and illogical discourse. They asked, instead, for Labour to set out a radical agenda to tackle to true causes of global poverty. The response they received was a letter thanking them for contacting him about the 0.7% target, and re-assuring them of Labour’s commitment to it.
This is obviously embarrassing – but it’s not the first time a political aide has failed to read a lobbying letter properly. What’s more worrying is the immediate assumption, as soon as development is mentioned, that the letter to reach for is the one about aid levels. The Labour Party I believe in can do better than that.
Continually portraying aid as the cornerstone of the UK’s relationship with Africa doesn’t help us electorally either.
26% of the UK public wrongly believes the government spends more on aid than education or pensions. At the same time a Com Res poll for Christian Aid shows that 74% of the UK public want action on our network of tax havens.
A Labour manifesto that really distinguishes us from the other parties must move firmly beyond the role of DFID. It must drop the irrational focus on aid, and instead communicate a social and economic justice-based agenda – coordinated, across-government -that tackles the true causes of mass poverty. It must be absolutely explicit that, under a Labour government, the UK’s primary contribution to ending global poverty will be to address the policies and practices that create it – including the roles of tax havens and corporate tax dodging, the effects of unregulated markets and unfair trade policies, the behaviour of large corporations, and the effects and causes of climate change.
It looks, thankfully, like DFID has survived the brunt of austerity savings made since the financial crash of 2008. While backroom costs have been cut, the government has stuck to its commitment to earmark 0.7% of Gross National Income for Official Development Assistance. Though critics instinctively point to the development budget in suggesting where we need to cut public spending, the truth is there is a rare consensus among the main parties that our spending on overseas aid plays a valuable role.
And there is good reason to arrive at such a conclusion. Despite public misconceptions about the amount Britain spends on aid (over a quarter of Britons think it is one of the government’s main outlays), the DFID budget is 1.1% of public spending; we spend more every year on soft drinks. The return on this is substantial – the money goes a long way. As an illustration, by 2015, UK aid will secure schooling for 11 million children – more than we educate in the UK but at one-fortieth of the cost.
A rethink in our approach to the way we do aid means that another critical claim of development assistance – that it ends up in the wrong hands – is unsubstantiated. The UK can be proud of its role in promoting ‘smart aid’, which makes development efforts more transparent, more accountable, and more demanding than ever before. An independent body evaluates the effectiveness of development initiatives, ensuring consistent value for money. Funds are pulled at the first suspicion of corruption.
Perhaps more fundamentally, ‘smart aid’ has revolutionised the thinking behind the development process itself, as well as the procedures involved. Short-term alleviation may sometimes be appropriate in times of crisis, but it often fails to address the underlying causes of poverty. In contrast, aid is now helping lay the foundations for sustainable economic growth. Increased focus on infrastructure, healthcare and education provision, and agricultural reform works to catalyse economic potential, offering a long-term solution as opposed to a short-term patch-up. For too long we have seen developing countries subsumed by borrowing, with unbalanced economies leaving them prone to price fluctuations and dependent on debt relief. ‘Smart aid’ is playing an important role in changing this, and a continued commitment to the DFID budget will go a long way in addressing the root causes of poverty.
To assume our interests are entirely separate from the goals of the developing countries with whom we are working is also misguided. Our money is helping to combat the oppression of women worldwide. It is well documented that global poverty disproportionately affects women: DFID has focused especially on reducing often extreme gender imbalances. This has a profound effect, not just for the women themselves, but for the wider communities in which they live. If we are serious about working towards a world where men and women have equal chances, there are few other ways that could promote and advance the cause so effectively, and for such relatively small sums.
The aid budget is also spent tackling global warming – both its causes and its symptoms – in areas of the world that are currently most severely affected, and face deepening problems for generations to come. A carbon-intensive, ecologically destructive developing world will prove extremely problematic down the line – these are global issues that will impact on us all. Helping create sustainable economies fully utilising environmentally friendly technologies is surely the kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.
Britain has, in many ways, pioneered the 21st century development project. Our pledge to safeguard 0.7% GNP to foreign aid forms part of an international agreement that was signed in the UK in 2005, to global acclaim. Some countries have matched us, and others designate an even greater percentage to foreign assistance, but Britain’s role in pressing the moral case for it has been central in advancing the idea. And DFID’s work in the field stands out as an example against which others measure themselves. DFID is a world leader in enhancing knowledge around development. Funding for its research, which is carried out on an unparalleled scale, is untied: money follows talent to create knowledge that benefits humanity.
As we head into party conference season, then, it is a sign of DFID’s success that all three of the main parties will be making the case for continuing the great work that Britain has done in combating extreme global poverty. And it’s important, with the rise of inward-looking politics in parts of Britain, and in a broader context of austerity that looks set to stay for the foreseeable future, that we keep making this case. A fairer, more prosperous world will, ultimately, be for the good of everybody.
Thank you all who attended our events at conference this year.
We had a great few days and it was fantastic to meet so many LCID members and supporters.
Below are a few highlights from over the last few days:
Rally for Internationalism:
Qatar fringe, focusing on workers rights
By Fionnuala Murphy, International HIV/AIDS Alliance
More than 70 countries around the world currently criminalise homosexuality, with punishments including life imprisonment, flogging and the death penalty. The last two years have brought a particularly virulent wave of criminalisation. Russia, Nigeria and Uganda have all introduced new laws which ban private and public expressions of homosexuality, while last December the Indian Supreme Court overturned an earlier High Court ruling that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code did not apply to same sex acts among consenting adults.
Criminalisation seriously undermines LGBT people’s human rights, and it also stands in the way of an effective HIV response. Globally, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to contract HIV than other men, and transgender people are up to 49 times more likely to become HIV positive than the general population. In countries where it is a crime to be gay, these populations are often afraid to come forward and access HIV prevention, testing or treatment for fear of being stigmatised, turned away or even reported to the police.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has worked with LGBT communities since 1994, supporting groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America to bring about step-by-step change. In Uganda for example we have provided support and funding over the last five years to strengthen the national network, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). With assistance from partners in India, we have worked with SMUG on a monitoring framework which has since enabled them to demonstrate unprecedented levels of violence, arrest and other human rights abuses against LGBT people since the Ugandan parliament voted for the Anti Homosexuality Act in December 2013. Using data from the framework, SMUG and other petitioners recently persuaded the Ugandan High Court to hear a constitutional challenge against the Act. On August 1st, the Court declared the new law illegal.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has also supported LGBT organisations in Uganda and other countries to improve their advocacy skills and to build links with the international community. Through our own advocacy, we have urged donor countries including the UK to adopt long term strategies to advance LGBT rights, and to ensure consequences for governments or individuals that incite hatred or violate LGBT people’s rights.
Our latest briefing, Challenging Criminalisation of LGBT People, calls for multi-sectoral approaches which build coalitions between civil society, trade unions, the health sector, faith groups, businesses and others. In partnership with Brunswick we have brought together a number of major multinationals, several of whom now plan to establish a global group of businesses against homophobia.
Labour has a brave track record on LGBT rights. The last Labour government introduced civil partnerships, banned discrimination in employment, goods and services and equalised the age of consent. Labour also has an outstanding record on international development and on HIV. In its 2005 manifesto, Labour included a pledge of universal access to HIV treatment. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown went on to secure support for this target at the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland, saving millions of lives and revolutionising the global AIDS response.
Building on this proud history, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is keen to explore how a Labour government could work with other sectors to challenge the rise in state-sponsored homophobia around the world. We are hosting a panel debate at next week’s Labour Party Conference which will bring together MPs, civil society, the private sector and the trade union movement.
The debate is a rare opportunity to hear directly from Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Frank will be joined by Pamela Nash MP, Chair of the APPG on HIV and AIDS and Shadow DFID Health Spokesperson, and Kerry McCarthy MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, alongside Maria Exall, Chair of the TUC LGBT Committee and Richard Meredith, Co-Head of Brunswick’s Crisis Advisory Group.
The panel debate takes place today, Tuesday 23 September, 12.45-14.15, in the Global Development Hub at Charter Gallery, Manchester Central, inside the secure zone. Lunch is provided. For further information, please contact Leila Zadeh: email@example.com.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is a unique alliance of national civil society organisations dedicated to ending AIDS through community action.
I’m Claire Leigh, the Parliamentary Candidate for Tonbridge and Malling and the Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.
As the most recent socialist society to affiliate to the Labour Party, LCID exists to keep international development high on the party’s agenda, and internationalism at the heart of our Labour values.
International development is among the last Labour Government’s proudest legacies:
- Our Prime Minister and chancellor championed development. under their leadership, britain became a global leader in fighting poverty- establishing DFID, cancelling debt and convincing rich nations to double aid to the poorest countries.
- We helped get 40 million more kids into school, and provided life saving vaccinations and clean water to over 2 million people
- Even during the global financial crisis, Labour stood in solidarity with the Global South.
This legacy has culminated in the UK being the first G8 economy to fulfil our commitment of giving 0.7% of national income in aid.
We should all be proud of what we have achieved together.
Labour has always fought for justice and equality both at home and abroad. That must continue. Globalisation is creating new challenges for social justice everywhere, and the temptation to turn inwards has never been greater.
But in a changing world one thing remains constant: Labour’s socialist values of cooperation, solidarity and internationalism are the values to guide us through these challenges.
And one things for sure; the Tory- led government doesnt get this. Labour and the Conservatives have a very different approach to development because our values are different.
Labour believes all foreign policy should help the world’s poorest people. Conservatives believe it is enough to give aid as a form of charity.
We believe global interdependence means cooperation is indispensible; they view our international obligations as simply a means to an end.
We believe policy – at home and abroad – should be about fairness and reducing inequality. They believe it is enough to pull people over the lowest poverty line.
Conference – an activist Britain is vital to creating a world that is not only less poor, but more sustainable, equal and just. This is why:
- A future Labour government must maintain Dfid as a strong independent department with a seat at the cabinet table
- A future labour government must ensure that all its policies – on trade, tax, immigration, defence, climate change and growth – are ‘pro- development’. That is the only way to ensure that we do not entrench poverty with one hand whilst trying to relieve it with the other.
- And the next Labour govt should again be a global leader in the fight against poverty and injustice…. We must build coalitions with countries around the world to fight injustice, instability, corporate abuses, tax avoidance and extreme poverty wherever it exists.
An open, globally-minded Britain can once again be a development superpower and a force for good in the world.
Tuesday 23rd September, 7.45-9pm
The Charter Gallery, Manchester Central
Come and hear speakers from across the Labour and trade union movement give short speeches at our informal rally – outlining their visions of how a future Labour government can once again play a leading role in the fight against global poverty and injustice.
Speakers include: LCID Honorary Vice-Presidents Alison McGovern MP, Shadow DFID Minister, Gail Cartmail, Unite Assistant General Secretary, Lord Jack McConnell, Richard Howitt MEP, Seb Dance MEP, and Stephen Doughty MP; Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker, Shadow DFID Minister Gavin Shuker MP; Shadow DECC Minister Baroness Bryony Worthington; Simon Franks, Franks Family Foundation; PPCs Mel Ward, Purna Sen and Jess Asato; Labour List Editor Mark Ferguson; and BOND Chief Executive Ben Jackson. The compère for the evening will be our Chair Claire Leigh.
In partnership with Bond. Refreshments provided.
Campaigning for Jeff Smith – Labour PPC for Manchester Withington
Sunday 21st September, 1.30pm
Meet at St Peter’s Square tram stop, central Manchester, close to the conference centre – contact our chair Claire Leigh on or look for a group wearing white LCID t-shirts! Alternatively meet in the constituency at 2pm in Morrisons supermarket car park, Chorlton, next to Chorlton tram stop.
International Morning at Conference
Monday 22nd, from 9.45am – Conference Floor
Come and listen to Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Shadow Secretary of State Jim Murphy, and Shadow Secretary of Defence Vernon Coaker outline the next Labour government’s international agenda.
Development on the Doorstep: Training for Parliamentary Candidates, agents, and CLP executive members
Monday 22nd September, 6-7pm – Room F11, Friends Meeting House, Central Manchester
Training for PPCs and their campaign teams in how to talk confidently about international development on the doorstep. The session will by hosted by Lord Ray Collins, Labour’s Spokesperson for International Development in the House of Lords, and Kirsty McNeill, former Downing Street adviser and PPC, and founder of strategy consultancy ThembaHQ.
Got a footy top you can donate at conference?
The Shadow International Development team are collecting for Kits 4 Causes, a charity who send old football shirts to kids across Africa. If you’ve got a shirt you can give, drop it at the Socialist Societies stall, (no.97 in the Exhibition Area) or bring it along to the team’s fringe event:
Football, Qatar 2022 & Workers Rights
Tuesday 23rd September, 6pm – Manchester Central, Exchange 11
LCID Members Social
Tuesday 23rd September, from 9.30pm – Midland Hotel Bar
All members and friends of LCID are invited to join us for drinks in the main conference bar.
– Charity Events –
Interested in development at #Lab14? Then take a look at these fringe events on development that our friends in the charity sector are putting on.
Please note: All events will take place in Bond’s ‘Development Hub‘ in within the Charter Gallery in the main Manchester Central conference centre – unless otherwise stated.
Don’t forget to check out LCID’s fringe events in full here!
Sunday 21st September
17:45-19:15 Is this the Generation to end Poverty? The contribution of generation Y to tackling global poverty
Speakers : Sir Brendan Barber, Alison McGovern MP (tbc)
Hosts: VSO and the International Citizen Service
19:45-21:00 Progress in Peril How can we secure and build on recent gains in Afghan Women’s Rights?
Hosts: Islamic Relief and ActionAid
19:45-21:00 Fighting Inequality: Poverty, the Middle, and ‘the one percent’
Speakers: Kate Green MP, Howard Reed, Polly Toynbee & Rachael Orr
Hosts: Oxfam and The Fabian Society
Venue: Lord Mayor’s Parlour, Manchester Town Hall
21:00 Reception – Tackling Tax Avoidance: The Race to the Top in Election 2015?
Speakers: Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of Public Accounts Committee; Michael Izza, Institute of Chartered Accountants; Toni Pearce, NUS; Owen Jones, Columnist and Author
Hosts: Oxfam, ActionAid and Christian Aid
Venue: Manchester Central, Exchange 1. Refreshments provided
21:00-22:00 Save the Children Reception
Speakers: LCID Honorary Co-President Rachel Reeves, Jim Murphy MP, Comedian Dom Joly, Save CEO Justin Forsyth
Venue: Manchester Central, Charter 2
Monday 22nd September
08:00-9:15 Has the Coalition stolen Labour’s Climate Clothes?
Guest Speaker: Jonathan Reynolds MP, Carmel McQuaid
Hosts: Christian Aid, Oxfam and CAFOD
13:00-14:15 Syria Solutions – How can we get aid through and keep hope alive in the worst humanitarian crisis for a generation?
Guest Speaker: Jim Murphy MP
Hosts: World Vision UK and Islamic Relief
17:45-19:00 ‘From the Human Rights to Diplomacy Abroad – consistency and human rights’
Speakers: Sadiq Khan MP, Kerry McCarthy MP
Host: Amnesty International and Labour Campaign for Human Rights
19:30-20:45 ‘Inclusive chocolate? How can women farmer and worker get a bigger chunk of the benefits?’
Speakers: Alison McGovern MP and Jonathan Horrell, Mondelēz International
Hosts: Fairtrade Foundation and Care International UK
19:30-20:45 The Politics of Envy: How does Labour talk about Inequality?
Speakers: Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Kate Pickett, Polly Toynbee, Mark Goldring (Oxfam CEO)
Venue: Manchester Central, Room 8
21:00 The Trillion Dollar Scandal – highlighting money lost to developing countries annually
Hosts: One Campaign
Venue: The Midland Hotel, Stanley Suite
21:30-23:00 Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy Reception
Guest Speaker: Caroline Flint MP
Hosts: sustainability hub, Mitsubishi Electric and SERA
Tuesday 23rd September
12:45-14:15 Criminalising Love: Cross-sectoral responses to state sponsored homophobia
Speakers: Kerry McCarthy MP and Pamela Nash MP
Host: International HIV/AIDS Alliance
17:45-19:15 From Hunger to Hope: 30 years on, what can we learn from Ethiopia?
Guest Speaker: Ian Lucas MP
Hosts: Concern Worldwide UK and World Vision
19:45-21:00 Rally for Internationalism
Hosts: Bond and LCID
21:30-23:00 Can Britain still cut it on a world stage?
Hosts: United Nations Association