Kate Green: We should use foreign aid to create work opportunities for refugees

Kate Green MP blogs oh how foreign aid can create opportunities for refugees

“I brought everything from my house, everything I could fit in the car and carry. I even brought my tea mug with me.” These are the words of Maher Mahmoud Al Haresh, a Syrian refugee I met in Jordan last week. Small details like Maher’s mug make us realise how much we have in common with one another. But Maher is one of almost 80,000 refugees living in Za’atari refugee camp, and one of 760,000 living in Jordan, and he and his family live a life that in most ways could not be more different from my own.

Despite the admirable generosity of the Jordanians, who have welcomed Syrian refugees to their country, in my visit to the camp last week, I felt again and again the sadness and emptiness that the refugees in Jordan (and other countries in the region) experience. Having fled unimaginable danger at home, they are safe, but cannot imagine the future with optimism, and their day-to-day life remains unbearably hard. Like many of the others in Za’atari, Maher is unable to work, his wife and eldest child are seriously unwell, his children’s education suffers, and there is little hope of the family returning to Syria soon.

Aid agencies like Oxfam, UN officials and representatives from DfID on the ground are doing all they can to address this situation, doing their best to create employment opportunities for women and men in the camp. But while Syrian women’s participation in the labour market was relatively high before the conflict, cultural barriers and a very low female employment rate in Jordan, combined with more traditional views of gender roles that war has provoked, plus poor public transport and infrastructure, mean it’s been necessary to create gender-specific projects for women and men to work inside the Za’atari camp.

Nesma AlNsour/Oxfam

The projects we saw were uplifting. With my fellow parliamentarians Lord Alf Dubs and Tim Loughton MP, I visited a social enterprise where women are making trendy tote bags out of old tents – the very canvas that provided shelter in the early days of the camp’s existence, before tents were replaced with the cabin-like structures the refugees now call home. Oxfam helped the women to set up the workshop, and the bags are now being sold all over Europe, with proceeds being used to support the refugees. Meanwhile, Oxfam has worked with a refugee who previously ran his own successful recycling business in Syria to establish two recycling plants in the camp staffed by male refugees. Women peer educators have conducted community outreach work to encourage families in the camp to sort and recycle their waste. This project also generates income for the camp inhabitants, while improving its environmental impact.

Inspiring though they are, these projects are small scale, employing dozens of refugees in a camp of tens of thousands. Some of the younger refugees have never worked. I met a 20-year-old man who had come to the camp at age 14. He can’t go home for fear of being conscripted into the Syrian army. He’s not allowed to leave the camp to find work in Jordan, and there’s no work for him to do in the camp. Meanwhile, his 50-year-old mother, a qualified teacher in Syria, acts as an informal childminder for her neighbours’ children, but she too cannot get formal work in or outside the camp.

It’s easy for us to be critical of Jordan for restricting refugees’ right to work. After all, we too in the UK apply unreasonable restrictions that offer only the most limited employment prospects to asylum seekers, despite our high employment rate. In Jordan, the picture is different: unemployment is high, so protective employment policies may appear to make more sense. But the answer to Jordan’s economic challenges lies not in shutting refugees out of the workforce, but in recognising their potential to help to grow its economy, while rebuilding their self-esteem and dignity that come from having a job to do.

And the refugees have much to offer. The main avenue that runs through the camp, known as the Champs-Élysées, is lined with food stalls, mobile phone shops, hair salons and bridal gown boutiques – a sign of their entrepreneurial drive and desire to build something out of nothing. Others are highly qualified professionals – like the teacher I met – but whose expertise and knowledge is going to waste.

That’s why one of the messages I’m bringing back to the UK government from my visit is that we need to think much more creatively about how we use the power of our aid and influence to encourage economic and employment opportunities for Syrian refugees in Jordan. In particular, we should think about how we can boost employment opportunities for women, as we know that when women thrive their children do well, and for young people, which could avoid the loss of a generation that may otherwise never have the chance to work. These themes are of course very familiar to me from UK domestic policy, where I’ve seen again and again that maximising employment among women and young people benefits not just the individual employees, but their families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.

As with Maher’s tea mug, there’s a common thread between the lives of the refugees desperate to work in Za’atari and the lives of those I’ve met who are shut out of the labour market here at home. That’s why I’ll be pressing our government to promote solutions – like access to education, tailor-made back to work employment programmes, real living wages and a right to work for all who want to – for Syrian refugees in Jordan; the very solutions that I’ve long campaigned for in the UK too.

Kate Green is MP for Stretford and Urmston.

Uganda’s Forgotten Crisis: Why Labour must call for Britain to remain a force for good in the world

Libby Smith is Head of Advocacy at The Coalition for Global Prosperity

Barely a day goes by where we don’t see horrific pictures showing the devastating impact of war splashed across our front pages. We are facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II and yet Uganda, home to over 1 million refugees, rarely makes the front pages.

A daily exodus of mostly women and children are fleeing armed conflict, hunger and sexual violence in South Sudan resulting in what the United Nations has called Africa’s biggest humanitarian crisis. The sad reality is that 61% of these refugees are children, many of whom have arrived at the camps alone.

Yet it is here, in the midst of such hardship that I met such brilliant, perseverant children, keen to get an education, make a life for themselves and return to South Sudan. Children like 13-year-old Isaac, who arrived at the camp with just his sister and wants to grow up to be a doctor “We need to be educated so we can return home and build a peaceful future for South Sudan”.

Isaac is right, we cannot allow an entire generation of South Sudanese children to become casualties of the civil war, after all it is these children who will pick up the broken pieces of their home and rebuild the South Sudan of tomorrow.

British aid is helping them to do just that. On a recent visit to Uganda with Shadow International Development Minister Preet Gill MP and international children’s charity World Vision UK, I felt incredibly proud to see British investment helping to provide these children with shelter, food, education, sanitary pads and vital mental and emotional support.

The emotional scars and immense trauma these children have suffered are unimaginably, with many having previously been recruited as child soldiers. We met Abdo, aged 14, who arrived at the camp when he was just 12 years old, both his parents had been killed, making him responsible for taking care of four of his younger siblings. Taking care of four young children is a huge responsibility for anyone, yet alone a 14-year-old boy with not a penny to his name. We don’t know what happened to make Abdo an orphan, too traumatised to speak about his past, but it was clear that he had suffered immense emotional scars. It is UK Aid and fantastic NGOs like World Vision UK who are helping to provide children like Abdo with the emotional, as well as physical, support they need to deal with what they have been through. Providing a safe place where children can recover and rebuild their lives.

Britain’s work here should be a source of great national pride. UK aid has provided food for over 1 million refugees, immunised 146,000 under-fives and got over 2,000 children into a classroom, with World Vision alone providing 25,000 children with child protection services and 360,000 people with food assistance.

Britain does this because it is morally the right thing to do and demonstrates that we do not neglect our duty to the world’s poorest. The refugee crisis in East Africa cannot be ignored and the conflict in South Sudan will not end tomorrow. We can either wait for things to get worse, provoking an even bigger refugee crisis or we can help people rebuild their lives. Everyone I spoke to in the camp wants to return home to South Sudan when it is safe to do so, they do not want to venture any further from their homes than they have already had to. Yet without the crucial support UK aid, and other international bodies, are providing these refugees will face starvation and be forced to migrate further afield in order to survive. Helping to provide a safe haven in Uganda reduces the push factors which can lead to onward migration to Europe and helps prevent vulnerable individuals falling victim to criminal gangs and people smugglers.

At a time when the UK is redefining its role in the world we have a unique opportunity to decide what kind of country we want to be. Theresa May has called for a “truly Global Britain that reaches beyond the border of Europe” and as a Labour member, I agree. Labour is the internationalist party and whether you voted for or against Brexit, we must now use this opportunity to forge an even more positive, global future for ourselves and UK Aid must be a key part of this.

Labour is a broad church with a wide range of views, which we openly discuss and debate to the credit of our party. Yet there are few issues that garner such support across the party as international development. Internationalism means a lot to the Labour Party – it is our belief in not being defined and restricted by your start in life and our solidarity with those beyond our shores. Labour doesn’t always get it right and I would be the first to agree with criticisms about how far Labour is prepared to condemn regressive regimes around the world. However, we are united in our stance that Britain cannot neglect its duty to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

You wouldn’t know it from our newspapers, but Britain is a global leader in development. The work we do is hugely respected across the world, and the Department for International Development (DFID) is regarded as one of the world’s most transparent, effective aid donors in the world. UK aid is a key part of the UK’s global offering, flying the flag for Britain around the world. Something that is more important now than ever before.

We may be leaving the European Union but that doesn’t mean we can pull up the drawbridge and turn our backs on the world. Far from it, we must use this moment to go out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike, forging an even more positive, global future for ourselves and the UK’s partnership with Uganda is a key example of this.

That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Recent events show us how important it is to scrutinise every partner we work with and every program we fund. Wasting aid and funding corruption and exploitation is criminal and we must be thorough in routing this out to ensure our aid is invested carefully, strategically and coherently. As ultimately it is children like Isaac and Abdo who will suffer the consequences of badly invested aid.

I would also never try to claim that aid is a silver bullet – it’s not. On its own it cannot solve all the world’s problems, our free trade agenda, active diplomacy and defence strategies are also vital. But as I saw in Bidi Bidi, when invested and implemented well and reaching those in need, it is an incredible force for good in the world and demonstrates that Britain really is Great when it boldly champions its values both at home and abroad.

A WORLD FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW – LABOUR’S POLICY FOR DEVELOPMENT

LCID member Caroline Pinder blogs on development policy and what Labour could do differently

Caroline has been a member of the Labour Party for 45 years, currently in Oxford East CLP.  She has been an international development consultant for the past 30 years, focusing on gender equality and social inclusion, VAWG and women’s economic empowerment.

Labour’s policy paper on international development, “ A World for the Many, Not the Few” with its twin focus on reducing inequality and poverty, sets out an inspiring vision for taking forward Britain’s role in the world as a champion for the poor and voiceless, who have been treated by the Tories, for the past eight years, as objects of charity and patronage.  

The Tories have sought to steal the development agenda by claiming credit for introducing the 0.7% target, acting as the “nice guys who care about the poor”. They have used the increased ODA budget resulting from 0.7%, however, as a means to export their neo-liberal ideology and return to an aid-for-trade approach that smacks of neo-colonialism.  They have done nothing to tackle the embedded cause of poverty which is inequality both within and between nation states. Rather they have fostered competition between states by supporting deregulation and distortion of markets which have further reduced the incomes and livelihoods of these states’ poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

We need to remind ourselves, and the electorate, that it was Labour’s recognition in the late 1990’s of the importance to wealthy and poor nations alike of a fair and transparent global economic and social framework.  It was Labour which gave international development full Cabinet status, making it possible for the UK to influence the global aid agenda through the 2000’s and achieve worldwide support for the MDGs.  It was Labour who encouraged a stronger voice for less developed nations and their citizens through the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005, and the follow up Accra Agenda for Action in 2008.  

Now, chunks of DFID’s budget are being passed to the Foreign Office and other departments to meet their overseas missions.  These may run counter to the objectives of the original International Development Act 2002 which required the Secretary of State to provide assistance “likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty” either by “furthering sustainable development (or) improving the welfare of the population.”  It was this mandate which enabled DFID to lead the way internationally in challenging earlier, colonial-style, development models. The next Labour government needs to continue that earlier work by fostering an international agenda which challenges entrenched global interests, is genuinely inclusive, strengthens the voice of poor nations and their vulnerable citizens, and reduces inequality at all levels.

Building on the experience of the MDGs, the 2015-30 SDGs offer a mechanism for delivering this commitment.   Labour should commit to ensuring all international spending is targeted towards delivering on the SDGs, in particular those concerned with the more vulnerable members of our global community:  women and children living in violent situations, threatened indigenous groups, refugees fleeing torture and conflict, those who are physically and mentally challenged, and disempowered minorities.  

The next Labour government should also encourage innovative approaches to tackling global systems and institutions which penalise poor nations or put them at a disadvantage, by setting an example through the UK’s own dealings with corporations that seek to evade tax, and cut wages or prices paid to poor people in developing countries.  And we need to support governments of least developed nations to establish good quality public services, paid for through fair and transparent tax systems, which will fund health and education services that are accessible to all their citizens. We have a champion NHS that was built on the principle of free access to all in need; it’s a model we should be proud to export, and support its delivery across the world.

There will be occasions when it is reasonable for some of the 0.7% funds to be given to other UK government departments, for example bringing in expertise to support states in setting up quality health care and education systems.  It is not acceptable however, for aid funds to be used for trade or foreign office interventions. There needs to be cohesion across our foreign, trade and development policies, so we don’t contribute to appalling humanitarian disasters such as that currently being experienced in Yemen as a result of the two-faced Tory policy to support trade of arms to the Saudis, whilst delivering food and medical aid to Yemen’s citizens.

These ideas, and more, are captured in the “World for the Many, Not for the Few”.  But ideas need to be turned into reality, and for this DFID needs to be re-energised and strengthened to become again a driving force against the continuance of global poverty and inequality.  It also needs to strengthen partnerships with NGOs and civil society, as well as governments of developing nations.

The Policy paper points out that DFID’s budget has quadrupled since 1997 but its staffing level has not grown proportionally.  As a result DFID has had to commission more and more of its work to be delivered in-country by private contractors whose first priority is profit rather than sustainable development. A departmental staff review is therefore essential to ensure DFID is able and fit to deliver and achieve the maximum impact with the 0.7% ODA, exempting it from the civil service staff freezes which are curtailing its work under the Tories.

It is also important to re-invent and expand the role of NGOs in delivering for impact.  The Tories have slashed again and again the Programme Partnership Arrangements (PPAs) which enabled NGOs to pioneer new approaches to development that reach the poorest in global communities.  Here in the UK there is also work to do in broadening and deepening our own citizens’ understanding of why and how global poverty and inequality impacts on better off nations. “Aid” has been used as a dirty word by some of our media; we have to show that a “World for the Many, Not the Few” brings benefits to everyone.

 

A global NHS: from competition to collaboration

William Townsend, Business Development Officer for THET  @Willmo1

Turning 70 this year, the NHS continues to be Britain’s most cherished institution. And rightly so, in all this time it remains one of the world’s greatest social achievements. It also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush, an important reminder that the history of the NHS is also a proud history of immigration to the United Kingdom.

From its inception in 1948 to today the NHS has benefited tremendously from immigration: almost a quarter of the NHS workforce is made up of people with a black and minority ethnic background with 202 nationalities represented across a workforce of approximately 1.4 million.

With vacancies of 35,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors in England reported this year, our reliance on overseas health workers persists. It’s even an issue organisations as diverse as the Guardian and the Daily Mail can agree on: non-UK health workers should be able to come to the UK and work for the NHS. As such, the cap on Tier 2 visas for doctors and nurses from outside of the European Economic Area has recently been scrapped by the Government.

But is this debate as clear-cut as it seems?

Health worker shortages are not unique to the UK. The issue is global and the current deficit of 7 million health workers is set to grow to 18 million by 2030. Unsurprisingly, this shortage is felt most acutely in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where thousands die daily due to a lack of access to qualified health workers.  

While NHS Employers Code of Practice states that “developing countries should not be targeted when actively recruiting healthcare professionals”, my charity, the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET), believes the NHS must do more to collaborate, and stop competing, with other countries to ensure we plug the worldwide gap between the demand and supply of health workers.

In some ways the NHS is already pivotal in this regard. For instance, through the DFID funded and THET managed Health Partnership Scheme, NHS volunteers from 130 Trusts have trained over 84,000 health workers across 31 LMICs between 2011 and 2017. Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, recently witnessed some of this work first-hand as she visited Somaliland and saw how Kings College London and THET are collaborating to strengthen medical education there.

In addition, in April the Department of Health and Social Care also announced a global nursing partnership with Jamaica, seeing Jamaican nurses work in the NHS for 3 years to provide care and gain specialist skills which they will then take back to the benefit of the Jamaican health system.

It is imperative therefore to strike a balance that ensures the NHS’ gain is not another country’s loss; particularly important in the context of Labour’s recent policy commitments to support a global movement for public services. We must continue to respect the rights of health workers to migrate to the UK and work in the NHS, whilst ensuring we don’t have a detrimental impact on patients overseas, for instance by attracting some health workers to the UK for training and education purposes with a view to them returning home to up-skill their peers.

The Human Resources for Health crisis is, of course, a complex issue with multiple changes required across all facets of a country’s health system (for instance in health system financing) but if the NHS is to be a genuine beacon for Universal Health Coverage, it cannot passively benefit from other countries’ – particularly LMICs – investments in health care.

We should be immensely proud of our global NHS workforce, and of an increasingly global outlook from the NHS. This is why THET is calling on the governments of the United Kingdom to enshrine the global nature of the NHS in their respective constitutions. We call on them to initiate a clause committing the NHS globally in ways which will benefit patients at home whilst also enhancing other countries’ abilities to build robust health systems.

There are many innovative and interesting models to be explored in order to do this. We look forward to continuing the debate, and others, at THET’s conference on the 27th and 28th September 2018 at Imperial College London.  

 

The big neglected development issue

LCID member Martin Drewry blogs on the War on Drugs

Ask a typical activist what the main causes of global poverty are – and they’ll probably say things like trade, tax dodging, international debt, climate change, 0.7%… But I’m betting not many would mention one of the biggest factors of all – the so-called War on Drugs.

So why is it such a big deal for development?  

  1. Prohibition is the power base of global organised crime.  (Think prohibition era America writ large across the world.)  It means the street price of their product rockets – resulting in them having enough wealth and power to bring states to their knees.  Through combinations of bribery and (terrifying) intimidation, drug cartels render the machinery of states dysfunctional – and to the extent a state does survive it’s often locked in civil war with an illicit empire possessing military might to rival its own.  In this context, what hope is there for pro-poor social and economic development? For those forced into poverty to have a chance of having their rights recognised, they need two things – a state with the resources to deliver, and a state that is accountable. The War on Drugs takes away both.
  2. Prohibition means the drugs market – one of the world’s largest trading sectors – is completely untaxed.  (That’s a form of subsidy!!) A recent report by Health Poverty Action showed that taxing cannabis alone in the UK could raise between £1 billion and £3.5 billion a year for the NHS.  And that’s in a diverse developed economy.  In many poorer countries the drugs market is a far greater proportion of GDP.  Properly taxing it would be beyond transformative in terms of state revenue for essential services like health and education.
  3. Prohibition harms public health.  The one-size-fits-all law enforcement approach clearly doesn’t stopping people taking drugs.  On the contrary, it motivates powerful crime syndicates to increase consumption as much as possible.  Worse still, lack of regulation and harm reductions services means consumption is far more dangerous – consumers have no idea of the strength, and no certainty what is contained. Even the simplest food products are required to give us detailed information about composition on the packaging – but for something as dangerous as drugs there’s no regulation or testing whatsoever.
  4. The War on Drugs disproportionately criminalises minority ethnic communities worldwide.  That’s well known. Lesser known is the fact that it also disproportionately incarcerates women – who are often forced into the more risky and lower paid roles.
  5. Forced crop eradication routinely takes away the livelihoods of poor farmers in marginalised rural areas – with devastating effects for them and their families.
  6. Crop eradication also wreaks havoc with the environment – first through the indiscriminate use of chemicals, and then by new deforestation when the production relocates to a more remote area.  (10% of the rainforest loss in Peru has been caused by this.)
  7. The War on Drugs prevents access to essential medicines.  Excessive bureaucracy (through fear of being perceived as soft on drugs) restricts global supplies of opioid medications – meaning a large proportion of cancer and AIDS sufferers worldwide are denied these painkillers.
  8. It fuels violence and secondary crimes – 29,000 lost lives in 2017 in Mexico alone.
  9. It disenfranchises people involved in the drugs trade from the state and its services – for example making them afraid to seek help, such as health care and police protection, in case their drug involvement is discovered.
  10. Finally, to clinch it… if all the above isn’t enough… the amount spent on the War on Drugs each year is $100 billion.  And that’s just the initial spend – it doesn’t include the secondary costs of tackling the problems caused, so the full total is much more.   This compares with the global aid budget of $130 billion. Imagine all the War on Drugs money being used to eradicate poverty rather than create it.

Putting all this together, a case can be made that the War on Drugs isn’t just one of the biggest causes of global poverty, but possibly even the single most significant factor.  

So where is our involvement?  Why are we so silent on the issue?  

If it’s because development voices have been afraid of the controversy (and I think, in truth, that’s probably been part of it), then that’s outdated.  Drug policy reform today presents far more political opportunity than threat. And even if it didn’t, some things are too important to ignore. We’re at our best in Labour when we stand up and speak out for what’s right.

There’s no question that it’s easy to feel frustrated at how slow we’ve been to engage.  But actually, the most logical thing to feel here is incredible excitement!!

Significant change here is highly achievable.  And because there has been so little involvement by the development sector, none of the low hanging fruit have been picked.  

For a start, Labour should commit to moving drug policy responsibility out of the Home Office.  It’s ridiculous that it’s led from there. Instead, Labour should allocate it jointly to the Department of Health and DFID.  That simple change alone will make a vast difference.

Furthermore, Labour should champion the rights of all countries to explore alternative drug policies, as has happened so effectively for example in Bolivia’s coca control programme.  To do this we don’t need to believe that we should reform our drug policies in the UK (although we absolutely should review those too!).  We simply need to believe that countries should have the freedom to make their own choices.  Labour in opposition should provide moral and political support for those wishing to do this – so that countries in the Global South are able to stand up to pressure from the USA and others seeking to prevent them.  And Labour in government should provide them with financial assistance through DFID, along with support for international policy dialogue informed by an increasing global evidence base.

Finally, I’d like to offer an observation.  Having been a development campaigner for many years, I notice that most of our campaigns have tended to originate in the Global North.  It’s not that these haven’t (mostly) been on important issues, and global justice movements throughout the world have often been pleased to be part of them.  But the War on Drugs is one of the very few issues that I’ve been actively, and passionately, lobbied by leaders of the Global South to campaign on.

When we’re selecting our priorities, that last point should make a difference.  If we choose to listen to them and take action, the cause of development can be transformed.  

 

The rise and fall of human rights

Stephen Tunstall, Palestine & Israel Programme Manager for Embrace the Middle East blogs about why Labour should adopt a humans rights focused foreign policy

@SCTunstall

Tony Blair’s famous 1999 Chicago speech set out a foreign policy doctrine to guide Britain through the twenty first century. It makes for a fascinating read in hindsight. Predicting that the biggest decision Britain would have to make in the following twenty years would be its relationship with Europe, it’s as if Blair could foresee a Conservative Foreign Secretary resigning in July 2018 on precisely this issue. Blair finished by warning America not to look inwards or isolate itself from the rest of the world. As President Trump visits the UK, something Blair surely could not have imagined, one wonders what he would have made of that warning had he been listening in 1999.

The Chicago speech gave Britain’s foreign policy a firmly internationalist agenda: “mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish…. liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society… that is in our national interests,” Blair proclaimed.

The rhetoric of human rights was an organising principle of Britain’s foreign policy under Labour.  Labour came to power in the post-Cold War years when there was a genuine, albeit naïve, belief that an era of peace and human security would characterise the new international order. I would not attempt to assess how successful Labour actually was in advancing human rights around the world; it was a mixed bag to say the very least. However, human rights served as a frame through which the government considered Britain’s role in an international community.

Fast forward twenty years and Britain’s Prime Minister is quite clear that human rights are not a pillar of her foreign policy. On the surface, Theresa May’s government makes similar overtures about foreign policy – all the talk about Global Britain and desperate pleas for international cooperation to pull us out of a Brexit quagmire. But that’s where the comparison ends. May’s infamous statement that “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere” derided the idea of international solidarity and a common humanity. Her Conservative government prioritises the traditional concerns of nation states, or ‘valuing stability and respecting sovereignty’ in the words of her former advisor, Nick Timothy. Defending humans’ rights is no longer in Britain’s national interest if it risks infringing on states’ sovereignty/impunity (delete as appropriate).

I’ve seen this posture repeatedly manifested in the government’s response to recent events in Palestine and Israel. For the past five years I’ve been working with civil society groups there and witnessed the increasing confidence with which Israel violates the rights of Palestinians with complete impunity. Take Gaza; the illegal 11 year closure of Gaza has had disastrous humanitarian consequences and is an appalling violation of the rights of innocent Palestinians. The recent protests at the heavily fortified fence separating Gaza from Israel and the rest of Palestine culminated in the killing of over 100 unarmed Palestinians and the maiming of thousands more, including children, journalists, and medics.

There are potential policy options which would help protect human rights and secure accountability for violations, but the government has shamefully rejected all of them. It could be working with international partners to reform the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a supposedly temporary arrangement which restricts the import of essential goods into Gaza. It could be freezing arms sales to Israel because Israel’s use of those arms for internal repression would be in violation of Britain’s own export licenses. Or it could have meant backing a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate claims of war crimes committed in Gaza.

Britain has done none of these things. In fact, it is actively working against efforts to uphold accountability for human rights violations. Just last month, the government confirmed that Britain would automatically vote against any resolution which specifically addressed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians at future sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. May’s government will vote against a resolution even if it is consistent with British policy, for example condemning the stalled demolition of the Khan al Ahmar Bedouin village to make way for illegal settlement expansion.

It is hard to imagine a British government more hostile to human rights protection that the current one. The new Foreign Secretary is not going to change that. While human rights was fashionable in the nineties, it is very much out of favour in the Brexit and Trump world we now inhabit.

So would a Labour government be any better? Jeremy Corbyn is, of course, well known as a staunch supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle against occupation. But Labour, along with the rest of the political and media establishment, is so wedded to the dogma of a two-state solution that its approach is overly state-centric, liable to approach this as a matter of diplomatic policy rather than a human rights emergency. Its most recent manifesto announced that a Labour government will immediately recognise a theoretical state of Palestine. Labour MPs proudly tout this policy, but recognition alone doesn’t address the daily rights violations that make Palestinian lives insufferable.

Labour needs to get human rights back on the foreign policy agenda. Human security must be elevated as a priority informing diplomacy, defence, and development. For too long Britain has shied away from seeking accountability for Israeli rights violations with the excuse that it won’t help the peace process. Well, there is no longer any peace process and a two state solution is not going to happen. Labour needs to realise this and switch to viewing the situation in Palestine and Israel through a human rights lens, with policies to enhance protection for vulnerable communities and international accountability for violations. Not only will this help protect Palestinian lives and livelihoods, it may help the pendulum swing back towards a political culture where human rights are once again a credible foreign policy priority.

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?