By Sam Rusthworth, LCID’s Membership & CLP Relations Officer – @SamJRushworth
There were gasps and raised eyebrows when Theresa May appointed Priti Patel as Minister for International Development in her new right-wing cabinet, but Patel’s first appearance before MPs last week suggests anyone concerned about global poverty is right to be worried.
In July, while commentators in the Westminster-Village were busy discussing how clever May had been to give senior cabinet jobs to hard-Brexiteers – including a bumbling foreign secretary with a track record for racial slurs and insulting world leaders, who she’d be able to sack by Christmas – at the Department for International Development a silent coup was underway. A new minister took charge who not long before had called for the whole department to be abolished. Shortly after, Ms Patel appointed Robert Oxley as her special advisor, whose previous roles include head of media at Vote Leave and campaign director for the TaxPayers’ Alliance while it was calling for government spending on aid to be cut.
So it came as no surprise when, in her comments to the parliamentary International Development Committee last week, as well as in an article she penned for the Daily Mail, itself a fervent campaigner against what it calls “the madness of aid”, Ms Patel repeated many of the well-worn cliches about aid money being wasted or stolen. The poorest should “work and trade their way out of poverty” not be “passive recipients of our support”, she declared, echoing popular misconceptions with a Nigel Faragian flare.
For most people, who do not spend their working lives unpicking the debates around aid and development, such arguments make sense, and believing them does not mean they do not care about global poverty. Images of famine, disease and suffering have been broadcast onto our TV screens for decades and things never seem to get any better. It is known that some African leaders who have presided over their countries for decades are worth millions of dollars while their people survive on less than $2 a day. Added to this are high profile examples of aid failures, such as £285 million Cameron’s government spent building an airport on St Helena which is unusable due to wind speeds. So it is easy for Priti Patel to conjure an image of a bloated UK Department for International Development dolling out money left, right and centre to corrupt regimes that steal or squander it – and understandable that so many believe it. Hopefully Ms Patel’s new staff at DfID will help her to see how inaccurate this image really is.
The truth about the UK’s international development spending is that, while imperfect, it has made substantial improvements in the lives of millions of people and helped many countries on the path to sustainable development. What’s more, many of the criticisms of aid are past their sell by date. Since Labour set up the Department for International Development in 1997, the UK has developed expertise in delivering aid effectiveness and become the world leader in global development. Contrary to popular myth, UK Aid money is not carelessly doled out but intelligently targeted and fully accounted for.
Just over forty percent of UK Aid money is entrusted to multilateral organisations such as the International Development Association, a financial institution administered by the World Bank, whose work has funded the immunization of over 300 million children, built over 100,000 km of paved roads and made micro-finance loans to over 120,000 small and medium enterprises. Other organizations trusted to spend UK aid on our behalf include The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the World Food Program; and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Each of these organizations is transparent, accountable, and widely respected for making a real impact.
The remaining sixty percent of UK aid is given to fund specific projects and programs under bilateral arrangements with national governments or respected not-for-profit organisations and used to fund health, humanitarian aid, education, infrastructure, and water supply. Such bilateral aid also includes millions of pounds currently being spent on basic humanitarian assistance, food, shelter, relief packages, health care and emergency education to Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well humanitarian assistance and funding Red Cross activity in Syria. In 2014 £238 million was spent in Sierra Leone providing humanitarian relief to those affected by the Ebola crisis, including treatment and measures to prevent infections from spreading.
Again – and I stress this point – such aid money is not wistfully handed out to corrupt chiefs and princes. All over the world, expert DfID staff sit in foreign government ministries to advise and oversee development spending, while foreign governments are expected to sign performance contracts, with each tranche of aid being dependent on achieving results. Aid spent through non-government organisations with expertise in particular areas is likewise carefully monitored, independently evaluated and strictly accounted for.
I am not arguing that DfID gets everything right. When you set to work on some of the world’s messiest, most complex and seemingly intractable problems, mistakes are inevitable, but it is better to learn from them and continually improve aid effectiveness than cast aside two decades of experience and learning with a complete overhaul of aid spending for what are, let’s face it, unjustifiable and ideological reasons.
Priti Patel has even admitted that her plans for DfID are ideological, telling Daily Mail readers that her approach “will be built on some core Conservative principles. That the way to end poverty is wealth creation, not aid dependency…. …we need to empower the poorest to work and trade their way out of poverty”. Few could disagree with the rhetoric, but to suggest that miners in Bolivia, Coffee growers in Rwanda, or garment workers in Bangladesh are not already wearing out their lives in long hours hard work is insulting. Likewise, trade is nothing new. It has been fundamental to the West’s relationship with the developing world for centuries, only on terms that are grossly unbeneficial to the latter. It is worrying, given the evidence, that Ms Patel appears to be arguing that replacing aid with more trade will miraculously end global poverty.
I am not saying that trade is unimportant. Export-led growth is essential for developing countries to acquire foreign exchange. A stronger entrepreneurial class in lower income countries would seek out ways to supply desired goods and services in a way government planners cannot. Foreign Direct Investment can provide jobs and transfer valuable learning. However, for the world’s poorest to take advantage of global trade they first need shelter, health care, sanitation, and education, while entrepreneurs need good infrastructure, security and access to finance. In other words, far from trapping people in “aid dependency”, the UK’s aid spending that Ms Patel is so quick to criticise is vital to empowering the poorest to work and trade their way out of poverty.
Perhaps Ms Patel would respond by questioning why governments of lower income countries are unable to fund infrastructure investment and public services themselves – why they are so ‘dependent’. The answer is partly that they struggle to extract tax because so much economic activity is informal and they lack the resources and expertise to capture it, but more so because so many foreign-owned multi-nationals shift profits to avoid their tax obligations in developing countries. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) last year published a study which showed that developing countries lose over $100 billion per year in revenues for this reason. The IMF put it at $200 million – over seventeen times the UK’s total annual international development spend.
It is not yet clear quite what Priti Patel actually means by extolling the benefits of trade as though it is an alternative to aid while at the same time pledging to maintain the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid, but reading between the lines it appears she intends to divert funds away from health and education for the world’s poorest and into the hands of businesses charged with ‘increasing trade’, possibly by out-sourcing more low paid, insecure jobs to developing countries.
Indeed – and this is the most iniquitous part of all – Patel has hinted at reversing the principle of Labour’s 2002 International Development Act that aid should target poverty reduction, and instead prioritise aid spending in countries with highest migration flows to the UK, potentially enabling British business to secure cheaper labour, just not on British soil.
This would be the ultimate application of Patel’s “core Conservative principles” to development aid – diverting tax payer’s money into the hands of private business and trusting it ‘trickles down’ to the poorest in the world.
Labour must defend its legacy on International Development and not allow the Tories to take us backwards. The Labour Campaign for International Development is where that fight starts.
Owen Smith MP, candidate in the 2016 Labour Leadership contest, blogs for LCID on his commitment to international development – @
Anyone in any doubt about the right-wing agenda of this new Tory government should take a look at two of Theresa May’s lesser commented-on appointments over the summer – that of Priti Patel as International Development Secretary, and her Special Adviser Robert Oxley – formerly of the Brexit campaign and the ideological Taxpayer’s Alliance.
Both Patel and Oxley have spent years attacking the very department that they now lead, arguing for the aid budget to be redirected, cut or even scrapped – and even at one point suggesting that DFID should be abolished or reformed. Even more shockingly they appear to be willing to undermine the cross-party consensus on the 0.7% aid target to spend a small but guaranteed proportion of our income on supporting education, health and responding to disasters around the world. They must be stopped.
Establishing DFID, leading the way on both the quality and quantity of our development assistance, and while abandoning the type of policies that led to the Pergau dam scandal – was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. An achievement that literally saved lives around the world, and showed the type of outward looking internationalism that Britain and Labour should represent.
It is clear that there is a moral case for international development assistance – and focusing this on those who need it the most. Who can say that we should turn by and walk on the other side when so many children remain unable to go to school, when millions face the threat of HIV/Aids, Malaria or TB, and when women and girls often bear the brunt – not least in conflict zones. And as we see the effects of climate change and disorganised war and conflict impacting on many more – we also have to prepare for the challenges of the future.
It’s why the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals was so important – recognising that tackling poverty and injustice requires concerted action in many areas, and in the richest countries domestic policies as well as their international action – not least when it comes to sustainability, climate change, taxation and corporate behaviour overseas. I want to see a Labour government that leads the way in delivering the goals domestically and internationally.
But as well as the moral case – international development is clearly in our national interest. Whether it is the tragedy of poverty and conflict driven thousands drowning in boats in the Mediterranean – or the threat of instability and poor governance in countries across Africa and the Middle East leading providing the space for extremism to grow – we ignore these challenges at our own peril. There is no zero-sum game between our Defence, Development and Diplomatic efforts around the world. We must ensure there is coherence and collaboration to ensure a safer, fairer and more just world for all.
But I believe there is something more fundamental at stake. Many understand the need for charity – but only Labour has historically recognised the need for justice – whether for garment workers in Bangladesh, women fleeing rape in the DRC or the refugees of Syria. We need to address the immediate impacts – but also the economic and political structures that drive injustice, poverty and conflict – for example through global tax transparency or fair trade. DFID and our aid budget have been at the heart of that fight for justice since 1997, and I will fight tooth and nail as Labour’s Leader to ensure the Tories don’t take an ideological axe to its work – and pledge to put tackling poverty at home and abroad at the heart of my programme as Labour’s next Prime Minister.
As with previous leadership contests in 2010 and 2015, LCID will not be endorsing a leadership candidate in the current contest.
However we have asked candidates to sign the International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates.
We are delighted that Owen Smith MP has signed the pledge and agreed to uphold the principles it contains.
We are awaiting a response from Jeremy Corbyn MP.
International pledge for 2016 Leadership candidates:
- I believe tackling poverty and inequality is what Labour governments are for. Any government I lead will take a ‘whole government’ approach to global justice, ensuring that our policies on tax, trade, climate change, home affairs, education, business regulation, defence, and security deliver for the world’s poorest people.
- I back British aid. I will ensure we spend 0.7% of GNI on aid and spend it well, focusing our aid exclusively and explicitly on tackling poverty and inequality, even in the hardest to reach places.
- I want DFID to be a development department, not just an aid administrator. I will ensure DFID is an innovative, independent department with a seat at the cabinet table and representation on all the relevant cabinet committees
- The Government I lead will pursue an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention in line with our international obligations, such as the UN’s Responsibility To Protect Civilians commitment.
The Labour Campaign for International Development has decided to suspend our membership scheme until after the conclusion of the Labour Leadership contest, as have a number of other socialist societies. If you would like to find out more information about LCID, including our planned events at this year’s conference, you can sign up to our mailing list here.
If you joined LCID before 12 January 2016, you can vote in the leadership contest so long as you register to do so by 8th August. You can register to vote here.
As with previous leadership contests in 2010 and 2015, LCID will not be endorsing a leadership candidate in the upcoming contest.
We believe Labour is an internationalist party with a proud record of fighting injustices around the world, from supporting Indian independence, to the anti-apartheid struggle, to leading action to protect civilians in Sierra Leone and Kosovo. As Robin Cook said, we must never ‘turn a blind eye to how other governments behave and a deaf ear to the cries for help of their people’.
The next Labour Government must learn from the many successes and failures of our foreign policy decisions. Every situation is different, but we will always be guided by our internationalist principles and by our international obligations such as the Responsibility To Protect Civilians, which we signed up to with each and every government in the U.N. in 2005.
This principle acknowledges that when a government either wilfully fails to protect the security of its citizens, or is unable to do so, the international community has a clear obligation to intervene, choosing from a wide range of actions including diplomatic means, sanctions and in the most extreme cases, military operations.
Through our development work and following any direct interventions we will always stand ready to support communities and countries to rebuild with a long term development plan to secure safety, stability and prosperity for their people.
The merits of any actions we take or decline to take must always be carefully considered and scrutinised. The lessons of Iraq will be important in those considerations – so too must be the lessons of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Syria. The next Labour Government must make the case for an ethical foreign policy and champion a progressive approach to humanitarian intervention.
We have always believed that all people matter, that global inequalities are no less our concern than those we fight at home and that we have moral obligations that reach beyond our borders to people we will never meet and places we will never visit. We will never shirk these responsibilities and will always work to further progressive Labour values on the global stage.
Glenys Kinnock, LCID Co-President
Rachel Reeves, LCID Co-President
Alison McGovern, LCID Vice-President
Gareth Thomas, LCID Vice-President
Ivan Lewis, LCID Vice-President
John Battle, LCID Vice-President
Seb Dance MEP, LCID Vice-President
Stephen Doughty, LCID Vice-President
Stephen Timms, LCID Vice-President
Hilary Benn, LCID Honorary Member
Susan Elan Jones
By Mike Kane, Shadow Minister for International Development and Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East – @MikeKaneMP
Whatever side of the EU Referendum Debate you sit on it is hard to deny that being able to work collaboratively with some of the world’s strongest economies, to pool financial, institutional and technological resources enables us to make much more significant inroads into tackling global poverty than it would if the UK simply acted alone.
As ActionAid UK’s Chief Executive, Girlish Menon said in a recent blog on the subject: “To end poverty we need stronger, not weaker collaboration.”
I am proud of the UK’s commitment to International Development over many years and successive Governments. The last Labour government helped 3 million people out of poverty a year, and 40 million children into education, tripled aid, dropped the debt, and built international coalitions to secure agreements that were right for Britain and the world. Had we sat outside the EU would those achievements have been possible on the same scale? I do not believe they would.
As a Shadow Minister for International Development I was involved in the campaign to enshrine in law our 0.7% commitment to development aid spending. British aid makes a huge difference to millions. But it is amplified by being a member of the European Union which is the world’s largest aid donor. An example of how working collaboratively with the EU increases the effectiveness of our aid budget is in relation to global reach. The UK has aid agencies which operate in 28 countries around the world – include our partners in the European Union and that figure rises to 150.
Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute is right to point out in his recent article for The New Statesman that the EU Referendum debate so far as failed to address some of the important questions about our role and place in an increasingly interconnected world. Even those who don’t adhere to the view that we have a moral obligation in relation to international development understand than in an increasingly unstable and insecure world efforts to tackle global poverty and end conflict have positive benefits beyond the countries in which they are made, including for the UK.
It’s not just about money, cooperation and global reach, of equal importance is the ability to pursue shared policies which go beyond international development yet impact significantly on the developing world. Progress on global tax justice has been led by the European Union but there is still much to do. We need to rework broken OECD tax rules and mandate the UN to develop a set of rules that ensure big businesses pay their fair share of tax in every country they do business in. Achieving this without the influence and leverage of the European Union is highly unlikely.
For me personally, as a former CEO of an organisation that built movements that mobilise the power of people to take action, I fear the impact of a UK exit on the influence of Civil Society. Through the European Union the UK’s excellent network of NGOs have built the capacity of Civil Society across Europe. This has enabled civil society influence over key decision in relation to issues like climate change and tax transparency.
It’s time the debate on the EU Referendum dealt with the reality of the world as it today. A world that if we fail to address the challenge of global poverty will become increasingly unstable. A challenge that we will be much less able to address whilst sitting on the outskirts of the European Union.
Like everyone, we are devastated at the loss of Jo Cox MP. As her husband Brendan said, Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life. And the world is a better place because of Jo. From her time at Oxfam to her campaigning as an MP for the protection of the Syrian people, Jo used her remarkable energy, conviction and intellect to bring real change to peoples lives.
We are hugely grateful to everything Jo and Brendan have given to the fight for social justice, including their support for LCID from the very beginning. There was so, so much more we wanted to do to support her work and campaigning. We owe it to her to carry forward the issues she championed, especially the need to properly protect civilians in Syria and elsewhere. We will struggle to win change without her skill and tenacity, but we will give it our all. That is surely the best way to honour her memory.