Response and Responsibility

Ray Collins on the secondary crises arising from the Covid-19 Pandemic

While the priority must be to tackle the health emergency caused by Covid-19, our short-term response needs to be both global and anticipate the longer-term consequences around the world. Investing in building stronger and more resilient communities will help better understand the knock-on effects of the abrupt changes brought by lockdowns and social distancing.

Billions of people in the global south experience immense suffering in their lives, but Covid-related restrictions have exacerbated this.

Women are facing increased violence at home; and children are lacking the safe haven of school and falling into the hands of abusers. Supply chains for food and other essentials are being cut off as restrictions on trade continue to apply, and there are further crackdowns on human rights; and extremists are exploiting the suffering to fuel hate and conflict. And there is also the likelihood that other infectious diseases will re-emerge as routine vaccinations are missed.

These, of course, are but a sample of the challenges being seen by aid workers on the ground. Many more disasters will emerge that we cannot foresee and prepare for.

There have been some positive moves to the growing debt burden faced by many countries already ravaged by conflict and poverty – but these are only temporary measures. Each and every challenge must be addressed through multilateral institutions, and the UK should live up to its proud reputation as global aid leader to identify such challenges and offer solutions.

One concern yet to be fully understood is how Covid-19 will impact on those living in refugee camps. Globally, there are nearly 26 million refugees – the majority of whom live in low and middle-income countries, where health systems are weak. If the virus should reach these camps, and there is some evidence to suggest it has, cramped conditions combined with poor hygiene will lead to an exponential spread in infections. That could lead to unparalleled suffering.

Aid workers are warning that the secondary consequences could be equally disastrous. The International Rescue Committee suggests the closure of women, girl and child friendly spaces could lead to an increase in intimate-partner violence in camps where up to one in three women have previously suffered such attacks. A psychologist working with refugees in camps inNorthern Iraq has warned that the pandemic could worsen mental health conditions, where upwards of 50% already live with PTSD. And Human Rights Watch have warned that the authorities in Greece may be using the pandemic to clampdown on the freedoms of the displaced.

This Wednesday in the House of Lords, I will attempt to pin down the government on how it plans to work through international institutions to support those in refugee camps during the current health crisis – and, indeed, the likely other crises that will follow.

Incredible efforts are being made to mitigate the virus from camps, particularly by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Not only has it begun constructing isolation and treatment facilities, but information-sharing has been expanded through a network of more than 2,000 community volunteers, religious leaders, and humanitarian workers. Attention has already been turned towards the longer-term challenges, and the agency is now giving financial support to those refugees who will struggle with the economic pain of Covid.

Vulnerable individuals and communities will suffer most during this pandemic, and there are few more vulnerable than those living in refugee camps.  The UNHCR and other global institutions are recognising the emerging challenges and adapting their work accordingly. The UK has a responsibility to support these efforts and to take a lead where necessary. I hope Ministers will confirm they share that ambition in the House on Wednesday.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister for the UN and a member of both Labour’s DfID and Foreign Office team. He tweets @Lord_Collins. For more blogs by Labour Peers, visit labourlords.org.uk 

World leaders must learn lessons from the past and act now on Covid

As first posted on Labour List

At the Labour Campaign for International Development, we are completely in awe of the heroic carers, nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners, posties and everyone fighting this virus on the frontline. We join the rest of the labour movement in calling for them to get the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need to ensure that they don’t lose their lives whilst trying to save ours.

As campaigners fighting for a fairer world, we are also acutely aware of the devastating impact of this virus on people across developing countries. Without urgent action, it is only going to get worse. The poorest countries have weak health care systems, little testing equipment, hardly any ventilators and few medical supplies.

The Central African Republic has just three ventilators for its five million citizens, Uganda has more government ministers than intensive-care beds, and ten African countries have none at all. But this is not just a healthcare crisis. Half a billion people could be pushed into poverty across the world as lockdowns come into force and trade is disrupted.

The International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) estimated that almost 60% of countries in Africa, and over a third in the Americas, are not providing wage protection and income support for workers. And even where there is support, it’s not enough to cover essential costs – as is the case for people in two thirds of the countries across Asia.

Gordon Brown has been right to call for a global deal to tackle this global problem. As he and Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill have argued, there must be a coordinated effort to create and guarantee the availability, accessibility and affordability of a vaccine in every country. We must also ensure that developing countries get the $35bn that the World Health Organisation estimated they need to boost their healthcare systems.

And to prevent mass redundancies and a recession becoming a depression, stimulus packages will need to be provided to low income countries, and G20 governments and businesses will need to work together to finance furlough schemes to keep farmers and workers in international supply chains from falling into poverty.

World leaders are failing to agree anywhere near the levels of support and coordination needed. As we have long argued, poverty is political, and this crisis is demonstrating why being in power matters. It is worth noting how different the G20’s response was to the global recession in 2008, when we had a Labour government and a Democrat in the White House.

It is certainly a hugely positive step to see the G20 agree a suspension of debt service payments from official bilateral creditors until the end of this year – though as the Jubilee Debt Campaign has argued, debt to private lenders must also be suspended. It is good, too, that a summit held yesterday comprised of a group of rich countries – including the UK – has seen pledges made to boost the global health response.

But it is hugely disappointing that the Donald Trump administration has blocked the International Monetary Fund from issuing billions of ‘special drawing rights’ (SDRs) – its global reserve assets. Doing so could have provided valuable financial support to the world economy, including developing countries.

$600bn could be raised without the need for Congressional approval. By comparison, $3bn is needed for a vaccine, and $5bn for the Universal Social Protection Fund for the poorest countries, for which the ITUC is calling. Rishi Sunak and other G20 finance ministers must find a way to get SDRs approved or find other ways of raising the funds needed.

While there is so much need at home, it is understandable that some will worry about pursuing an international agenda. But our movement has always been at the forefront of campaigns to end global poverty and inequality. Thanks in part to campaigns by the co-operative movement, trade unionists, Christians on the Left and party activists – as well as the leadership shown by the last Labour government – huge progress has been made in the fight against global poverty in the last two decades.

For the sake of the women and men now losing their jobs or falling sick, we cannot let that progress be undone. A lesson from the past is that global recessions, and the damage that they do to us all, are best addressed quickly and boldly. Time is running out – world leaders have a responsibility to act, and act now.

by David Taylor, Vice-Chair

Vicky Foxcroft MP on Labour’s Legacy Standing Up for Women and Girls

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Author: Vicky Foxcroft, Member of Parliament for Lewisham Deptford

Throughout our history, the Labour party has fought tirelessly for the rights of women and girls. It was the Labour party that doubled maternity pay, brought in new laws on domestic violence and introduced the 2010 Equality Act. I can proudly say it is the Labour Party which has transformed the lives of countless women across the UK.

The party continues to fight for women and girls in Parliament, with—for the first time ever—a majority female PLP. However, we still have a long way to go. As I have seen too often in my own constituency, women are held back both socially and economically by domestic violence, gender discrimination at work and fear of sexual harassment.

Gender discrimination knows no borders. Globally, women make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, less than 20% of the world’s landowners and 72% of human trafficking victims. Unsurprisingly, it is women in the poorest parts of the world who carry the heaviest burden. In south Asia almost half (45%) of girls are married by their 18th birthday, and women in sub-saharan Africa spend an average of 40 billion hours a year collecting water, keeping them out of school or paid work.

As an internationalist party standing for social justice across borders, Labour have always stood in solidarity with the women at the front line of the fight. Indeed, after setting up the Department for International Development (DFID) in 1997, Labour committed £100 million to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) to improve reproductive health and give women real choices, and DFID’s support to the Government of India’s universal elementary education programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), helped get millions of girls enrolled in school between 2003 and 2006, bringing enrolment up to 96%.

We must continue to champion the rights of women and girls everywhere. Whether it’s women in my constituency of  Lewisham Depford, or girls around the world who are denied access to an education, the Labour party must continue to lead the way in fighting injustice at home and abroad, to build fairer, safer and more inclusive communities, in which no woman is left behind.

Unlocking girls’ education is the key to a healthier, safer and more prosperous world

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Author: Libby Smith, Acting CEO of the Coalition for Global Prosperity and LCID Executive Member

On International Women’s Day 2020, it’s important that we not only celebrate the huge strides made but recognise that every day, women and girls still face discrimination, poverty and violence just because they are women. We know that when we empower women and girls great things happen, yet women and girls everywhere are still being silenced and denied their rights.

So much of today’s progress in Britain has been hard fought and hard won by women before us. A century on from the watershed moment in which 8.4 million women won the right to vote, we have a record 220 women as elected representatives in Parliament. Women in the UK, who were once barred from formal education, are today 35% more likely than boys to attend university. Fast forward to the present day, and inspirational movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have sent shockwaves around much of the developed world, giving a voice to millions of women previously silenced.

But the reality is that the fight is still far from over. Women and girls in the poorest countries are still not being heard in the workplace and at the polling station, with 130 million girls around the world still being deprived of an education and only two countries in the world having equal representation of women in parliament. Without concerted action, they face being swept aside in a sea of unprecedented change. We have the power to change this and this is why UK aid is keeping girls in schools, stamping out gender violence and giving women a voice in shaping the future of their countries. I believe that by harnessing one our greatest strengths – our aid budget – we are, and can, make a meaningful difference to the lives of young women for generations to come.

I have seen for myself in Uganda the important work UK aid is doing. I met Farah, a young girl orphaned at 14 years old, she had fled South Sudan and was caring for her siblings in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. Despite all the hardship and challenges, the immense emotional scars and trauma, she faced all she wanted was to get into the classroom: “We need to be educated so we can return home and build a peaceful future for South Sudan”. What was striking was how important she felt getting an education was to create the next generation of future leaders in South Sudan.

I believe that the single most powerful way to make the world a safer, healthier and more prosperous place for us all is by investing in women and girls, in particular girl’s education. It has been proven time and time again that getting girls in the classroom is the key to unlocking so many other problems – it boosts economic growth, reduces population pressures, reduces conflict and improves health. A United Nations study found that if all girls went to secondary school, then infant mortality would be cut in half, saving three million young lives every year. When girls are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92 billion per year to their economies. While evidence shows that providing aid to the women of the house means they are far more likely to invest their incomes back into their families – helping to drive up better health standards and educational opportunities for their children, in turn benefitting the wider community. However it is not just that universal female education will expand GDP and make us all more prosperous, though it will, it is profoundly the right thing to do.

We also know that to effectively govern the population, parliaments need to be representative of their population, drawing upon the widest possible pools of talent and experience. Yet currently men are still dominating the corridors of power around the world. By educating girls today, we can create tomorrow’s campaigners and leading political voices who want to strengthen womens’ rights, building a new political class for whom creating a new status quo is their raison d’etre. UK aid can, and is, playing a key role here, as the example of Pakistan shows, where the UK-aid funded Aawaz programme has helped to politically empower over 20,000 women through women’s assemblies. But we can also do more to learn from and support each other. In Rwanda, over 61% of MPs are female, compared with just 34% in the UK. Despite its harrowing history, the country is leading the way in female political representation, and if they can do this, then so too should we.

The UK Government has a strong track record of championing women’s rights around the world and has rightly continued to prioritise women and girls in its international development and foreign policy. UK aid has helped 5.3 million girls into education in the last 5 years, including in some of the toughest places in the world and I’m glad the Prime Minister has made this a priority.

As the UK redefines its role in the world, we have the opportunity to really consider what sort of nation we want to be. I believe we are at our best when we stand tall as an outward-facing, tolerant, compassionate nation which respects the rule of law and human rights, championing our values in the face of the defining challenges of their time. We must continue to champion equal rights, opportunities and life chances for women and girls around the world as we know that when we empower women and girls great things happen.

LCID is proud to be nominating Keir Starmer and Rosena Allin-Khan

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The Labour Campaign for International Development is proud to nominate Keir Starmer for Labour Leader and Rosena Allin-Khan for Deputy Leader.

Keir Starmer has been a tireless advocate of human rights and a brilliant supporter of internationalism and international cooperation. Rosena Allin-Khan, one of LCID’s Vice Presidents, has dedicated her life to helping others, both here as a doctor in our NHS, and overseas doing humanitarian aid work with the world’s most vulnerable.

The only way to guarantee that Britain’s aid budget is protected, the Department of International Development remains independent, and that Britain is a leader on international development and humanitarianism, is with a Labour government. We believe that Keir and Rosena are the best people to win Labour back to power at the next election.

The decision to nominate was voted on by LCID’s executive and guided by our members survey, which Keir and Rosena topped – the results can be viewed in full here (and below this post).

Sir Keir Starmer said:

“I’m really pleased to have received LCID’s nomination and will stand with you to ensure DFID retains its departmental independence and that we hold the Government to their commitment to honour the 0.7% target.

Britain should be leading the struggle for human rights, tackling inequality and taking on the climate emergency. If I am elected leader of the Labour Party I will ensure that we build on our proud international development record and that we lead the fight for a more just and peaceful world.”

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said:

“I’ve devoted my life to giving a voice to the voiceless, it’s taken me across the world, helping those fleeing conflict or rebuilding after disasters.

LCID have been a huge part of that journey for me – we share the same values. I’m so honoured to get their endorsement.”

For more information about their campaigns and to get involved, please visit keirstarmer.com and drrosena.co.uk.

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(For the full results of all questions in our members survey, click here).

Members survey

With the start of a new year and a new Parliament, the LCID team is currently revising our plans for the year ahead. We were interested in hearing the views of LCID members on a range of issues as we look to shape our priorities. Below are the results – thank you to everyone who took part!

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Committing to Human Rights in Syria

Today LCID has written with the Syrian British Council to Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, calling on her to ensure a future Labour Government protects human rights in Syria.

The Syrian British Council are a a recently established organisation that brings together Syrian civil society groups, British nationals and UK-based Syrian individuals across Britain to work towards achieving a democratic and human rights-abiding Syria, free from extremism and dictatorship.

You can read the letter here.