British aid and the defence of internationalism

By Pablo Yanguas, Honorary Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester. Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of LCID. LCID is a strong supporter of the 0.7% aid target and our views on the future of the UK aid budget can be read here.

Britain’s aid system is full of paradoxes. It benefits from a decades-long consensus amongst elites about the intrinsic and instrumental value of aid; it has been afforded billions of pounds to tackle some of the world’s thorniest problems; and it is led by the OECD’s premier bilateral agency, a ministry that often defines the transnational development agenda by combining expertise, accountability, and vision. None of this can be said of any other donor, bilateral or multilateral. And yet DFID’s ecosystem is tragically misunderstood or neglected by the British public; it faces recurrent attacks from tabloid hacks less interested in development than in scoring cheap rhetorical victories; and it is subject to a level of scrutiny and control that can easily stifle creativity and risk-taking.

DFID and the broader UK Aid system are something to be proud of. They are worth fighting for. But the fight to keep Britain’s leadership hangs on the edge of a knife as the aid community faces two existential challenges going forward – one technical, the other political.

In technical terms, the world of aid is getting smaller, and harder. After the uncertain decades of the late 20th century, developing countries have decidedly entered a new phase in their economic, social, human, and political development. Absolute poverty is on the decline, average incomes are rising, private sectors are flourishing, and a new middle class is beginning to feel a deeper sense of ownership over their countries’ destinies. Governments can now find in financial markets the credit that was long denied them. When loans are too costly, grants and other transfers from rising Southern power are matching – and, in some cases, surpassing – traditional ODA flows coming from bilateral donors or international financial institutions.

All of these trends are a net positive for the world, but they do not reach everywhere. There remain still plenty of countries that are too remote, destitute or unsafe for markets to take an interest. Where that neglect overlaps with a lack of geopolitical relevance one finds the intractable places of the world: Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, or Afghanistan. But more stable and prosperous low- and middle-income countries also face challenges that cannot be met with financial transfers alone. Intractable problems like corruption, market regulation, and public service reform call for savvy technical assistance and coalition-building efforts. These are contentious issues where reform may take decades to come to fruition, due to vested interests or deeply-rooted social norms.

Luckily, a host of committed and creative actors within the aid community – and increasingly the broader development community – have spent the better part of two decades breaking down these challenges, taking an honest look at business as usual, and developing new concepts, frameworks, and modalities for making aid impactful in intractable places or intractable problems. It is a nascent agenda, an inchoate insurgency that cuts across bilateral agencies like DFID and USAID but also think tanks, charities, and private providers. There is no shortage of good ideas, or people willing to test them. What this community lacks, crucially, is political coverage.

It is unclear whether the foreign aid system as we know it can survive in a time of populism. Identity populism has legitimized the moral discrimination between nationals and foreigners, undermining the fundamental humanitarianism that led to the establishment and expansion of the aid system. Economic populism, in turn, has undermined the fundamental internationalism that underpinned the liberal, rules-based world order that emerged from the ashes of World War II. Humane internationalism was for decades the underlying moral vision of foreign aid, in Britain as in other OECD countries. However, the current crisis of public confidence in aid is but a sideshow in a much larger struggle between internationalism and populism.

There is little that the aid community can do by itself to stem the tide of morally and intellectually suspect yet emotionally persuasive populist claims. DFID has defaulted to a reactive modus operandi in which Daily Mail scandals are met with meek press releases. The charity world has internalised a siege mentality that responds to criticism with an impossible commitment to the highest ethical standard, while still peddling the kind of poverty porn that breeds popular resentment and plants the seed of populist backlash. The firms that implement DFID projects around the world are terrified of headlines and reputational costs in a world where accountability is often understood in a strictly contractual sense. And academia has grown increasingly distant from the realities of aid practice, gladly taking ODA funds without bothering to understand the very hand that feeds them. Only ICAI dares to question some of the worst excesses of the aid counterbureaucracy, despite having been set itself to keep an eye on the aid system.

An isolated aid community pins all its hopes on the promise of enlightened leadership. Practitioners yearn for a minister who truly believes in aid, instead of someone for whom a DFID appointment is merely a stepping stone towards better, more important things. They look to Parliament for understanding, succour, and protection. But their insularity has propelled them into a downward spiral, retreating to the safe and comforting camp of Guardian readers, instead of reaching out to fellow internationalists in business, religious congregations, or the free-trade wing of the Conservative movement. It is, by all appearances, a self-defeating strategy. But it is what short-term incentives allow.

Seen in this light, the aid system poses a much larger and more fundamental question for Labour (and the other parties): will our leaders fight to protect and expand the kind of humane internationalism that advances peace, prosperity, equity, and dignity for all? Or will they bow down to our worst instincts, let Britain sleepwalk into a new era of populism, and thereby jeopardise one of the world’s best aid systems?

LCID welcomes focus on inequality in new Labour policy paper on international development

The Labour Party has a proud history of internationalism. From the establishment of the Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964 to the creation of the Department for International Development in 1997, Labour has shown time and again that internationalism is in our DNA. We have always fought for justice and equality at home and abroad, and we must continue to do so. It’s one of the reason why so many are drawn to Labour in the first place.

As a party, we should be proud of what we have achieved. But we must also look ahead to what the next Labour government can do to not only reduce poverty around the world but also reduce inequality – both within and across nations.

Today, the Labour Campaign for International Development welcomes the new Labour paper on the future of international development policy, launched today by Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State.

The paper sets out 5 key priority areas for the next Labour government;

  1. A fairer global economy
  2. A global movement for public services
  3. A feminist approach to development
  4. Building peace and preventing conflict
  5. Action for climate justice and ecology

The aim is that all of these will be achieved through the twin action of tackling not just poverty, but also addressing inequality. We know that during conflict or crises, women and girls are hit the hardest; open to exploitation, gender-based violence, and a high risk of early, forced and child marriage to ensure families have enough money to survive. And it is not just women and girls who can fall through the cracks by not tackling inequality, but other marginalised groups – such as those living with disabilities, in the LGBTQ+ community, and those living in refugee camps to name a few. We have long called for a focus on reducing inequality, and it is great to see a number of these things included in this paper – from focusing on the Palma Ratio, to restoring aid funding to public health and education, to creating a Centre for Universal Health Coverage.

For each of the five priorities set out in the paper, Labour will take action not only through DFID – but by working with other government departments and international partners. A whole government approach to development is to be welcomed, and is one of the priorities LCID set out in our submission to the task force.

One area where greater clarification is needed is regarding the future of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The CSSF currently helps fund the White Helmets, who are are strong supporters of (raising funds for them at our Christmas fundraiser), so we would like to see UK aid funding for them continued under any future Labour government (should the terrible conflict in Syria still be dragging on).

We must be realistic. A policy paper is not a new dawn. A new dawn will only come when we have a Labour government. But this policy paper is a good place to start. The Labour Party must now join together – from the PLP, to socialist societies, to the Trade Unions, to its members in each and every constituency, and to all voters to ensure that our vision for a fair and just world is recognised and bought in to by all.

What you could do:

  1. Join LCID and help us campaign for a fair and just world
  2. If you re a Member of Parliament or a member of a CLP and would like to arrange a talk at a member meeting please get in touch
  3. Let us know if you would like to get involved in LCID

LCID Submission to the Labour International Development Task Force

Labour has always fought for justice and equality for all both at home and abroad. That must continue. Whilst the world has changed and remains in constant flux, one thing remains constant: Labour values of cooperation and internationalism are the ones to guide us in a globalised world. This submission presents seven areas of priority for Labour’s International Development team.

1. A whole Government approach

Britain’s role in the world – and our ability to reduce inequality and help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty and fulfil their rights – is about so much more than aid, and stretches beyond what Labour’s flagship Department for International Development (DFID) is able to achieve on its own.

LCID believes in a pro-rights, pro-equality and multilateralist approach to development that not only lifts people out of poverty but fundamentally redistributes power and addresses structural injustices. Aid remains central – but we need to look beyond it. To do this, we need to mainstream global social justice across UK Government policy.

Policy coherence matters on two levels: within our aid policy and across all UK Government policies that have a global impact. Policy coherence has to begin with coherence of objective. If coherence of objective is achieved then, with the right mechanisms in place, coherence of delivery will follow. That is the only way to ensure that we do not entrench poverty with one hand whilst trying to relieve it with the other. An open, globally-minded Britain should aim to be a development superpower.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved with a cross-government approach and ensuring all goals are seen as cross-cutting and not in silos. In prioritising some SDGs over others, there is a risk that governments, private sector companies and other stakeholders adopt a ‘pick and choose’ approach. Further to a cross-departmental approach to the SDGs the UK must ensure it is delivering the SDGs for the many and not the few, ensuring that no-one is left behind.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that all policies – on trade, tax, immigration, defence, energy, climate change, foreign policy alliances and growth – are ‘pro-development’.
  • Create a cross-departmental working group to monitor the implementation and success of delivery against the SDGs both at home and abroad, creating a national plan for the UK to deliver from at home.

2. Quality of Aid Spending

Whilst aid is just one of the ways in which a Labour government can help people, communities and countries lift themselves out of poverty, it is imperative that Labour continues to make the case for aid. Since the 0.7% target was enshrined in law, it has come under constant attack and there have been numerous attempts to divert aid money for domestic purposes, and to spend aid money through departments other than DFID.

A Labour Government must:

  • Ensure that we maintain our global leadership position on aid, spending 0.7% of GNI on eradicating extreme poverty and delivering our life-saving support through an independent Department for International Development.
  • Ensure DFID’s poverty reduction mandate is protected with no resumption of tying aid to British commercial interests or diversion of funding to subsidise the Ministry of Defence.

3. Ethical Foreign Policy

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. We must learn from the many successes and failures of our foreign policy decisions. Every situation is different, but we must 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 timely and decisive action from a wide range of approaches, 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, recognising that both action and inaction are a choice and each has a consequence. 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.

A Labour Government must:

  • Uphold the 2005 UN Responsibility to Protect Civilians agreement, and the Arms Trade Treaty.

4. Trade Post-Brexit

Trade is one of the most effective way to lift millions of people out of poverty, and making trade fair should therefore be a key priority for any Labour Government. At a minimum, we must ensure our post-Brexit trade agreements with economically vulnerable countries build on the current trade agreements that exist between the EU and these countries.

A Labour Government must:

  • Offer a non-reciprocal preference scheme for imports from economically vulnerable countries immediately upon Britain’s exit of the EU.

5. Tax

Tax dodging is a major global issue that hits poor countries harder than anywhere – caused primarily by the arrangements that multinationals have to shift profits away from the developing countries where the profit-making activities take place. Tax avoidance by multinational companies costs developing countries around $200 billion every year according to an IMF paper, and tax havens cost developing countries at least $100 billion a year according to UNCTAD.

A Labour Government must:

  • Review all UK tax policies to ensure they do not undermine global agreements, are fair to poor countries, and consistent with the UK’s development objectives. For example, George Osborne’s changes to the Controlled Foreign Companies Rules in 2012 cost developing countries enormously. These changes should be reversed and all future UK tax policy changes should be reviewed in terms of their impact on developing countries.
  • Push for public country-by-country reporting of tax information by multinational companies within 2 years, either multilaterally, or if that fails, unilaterally.
  • Ensure that all UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies finally adopt public registers of who owns which companies and trusts registered there within one year of entering government.

6. Brexit and Development Funding

EU funding for development and humanitarian crises has had a major impact on poverty reduction around the world. UK support to EU instruments, such as Europe’s ECHO humanitarian fund and the European Development Fund (EDF), both of which received good scores in the Government’s own Multilateral Development Review, enables it to reach and support vulnerable people who would not otherwise have access to vital assistance. UK based NGOs also received €356.9m of new commitments from EU funds in 2016.

Beyond a funding relationship the UK and aid sector has had a leading influence on the EU’s approach to development. The effectiveness of UK Aid is in part a result of this close working and it has helped to drive up the effectiveness and transparency of EU aid and in pushing member states to meet the 0.7% of GNI to ODA commitment.

Participation of non-Member States in the EU’s development and humanitarian funds does currently take place and therefore could be replicated for the UK after it leaves the European Union. In the case of Switzerland, Transfer agreement delegated cooperation rules and EU Trust Fund legal mechanisms permits them to channel their ODA via EU funds and programmes and to participate in policy discussions and decisions.

A Labour Government must:

  • Continue a relationship with EU funding instruments and seek to adopt a Switzerland style agreement to ensure the UK can still work with EU institutions to guide programme and policy discussions and decisions.

 

 

Aid should remain focused on the world’s poorest

Our reaction to the Penny Mordaunt’s call to spend UK aid “in the national interest”:

Penny Mordaunt is right to praise the generosity of the UK public, who want our aid budget to be spent on the people who need it the most. Therefore, her call to reshape our aid to address UK interests is not only a betrayal of the public’s generosity, it also threatens to weaken public support for aid.

In speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Penny Mordaunt said that “For me the bar we need to set on aid spending is not just are we spending this money well, but could we spend it better in the national interest”. This agenda directly contravenes UK legislative requirements on aid which require all UK aid to be driven by the goal of supporting poverty reduction.

Penny Mordaunt also suggests there are simple win-win outcomes from directing aid to the UK’s national interest. However, she is not being straight with the UK public. There is already evidence that new programmes – overseen by the Foreign Office – to develop commercial relationships with the likes of Argentina, Chile, Malaysia and Turkey are leading to cuts in aid to the poorest countries.

Penny Mordaunt must immediately get on with her job of securing the development and poverty focus of our aid budget, as demanded by the UK public and UK legislation.

Labour frontbench position on the Assad regime must be clarified

Together with our friends at Syria Solidarity UK, LCID have written to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry asking her to clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime.

This follows her remarks in the Commons on Monday, in Hansard here.

The letter is below and a PDF copy can be viewed here.

Dear Ms Thornberry,

We are writing to you, as campaigners for peace in Syria, to express our disappointment at your comments in the House, at the Oman, UAE and Iran debate on Monday 11 December 2017.

In your question to the Foreign Secretary, you proposed a deal which would involve Iranian and allied forces, withdrawing from Syria in exchange for the withdrawal of coalition forces, the maintenance of Assad in power, and the provision of aid for reconstruction.

Assad’s regime has been responsible for extensive and systematic crimes against humanity, and for the large majority of civilian deaths during the war. Any implication that Assad has a place in the future of Syria is therefore deeply harmful, as is any suggestion that the UK might fund the reconstruction of Syria under his rule.

To allow Assad to continue in his position as President, after all the crimes he and his allies have committed, would be entirely opposed to the values of the Labour Party, which should always champion democracy, social justice and equality. The party should instinctively stand in solidarity with oppressed people; to further enable an oppressor would be damaging, not just for Syria, but for human rights worldwide.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for UN-led talks — the Geneva process, not the Russian-led Astana talks — leading to elections. Free and fair elections are impossible as long as Assad holds as many as 200,000 Syrian citizens hostage in his prisons; and inconceivable as long as the Assad regime can prevent UN agencies from delivering even basic medical aid to civilians in besieged Eastern Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus.

Without legal accountability, any reconstruction funding will reinforce the criminality of the Syrian regime which led to this crisis. As long as a just and viable political solution is out of reach, the UK should support reconstruction only in ways which strengthen rather than undermine the legal rights of Syrians. This can only be possible in areas outside of the control of the Assad regime.

We ask that you please clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime, and re-establish the party as one that actively condemns those responsible for mass murder and genocide and seeks to hold them accountable. To do otherwise would be to let down those living under the regime’s bombs.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Sana Kikhia, Syria Solidarity UK
David Taylor, Vice Chair, Labour Campaign for International Development