Decent work and international development – a view from the grassroots
by David Jepson, LCID Member
It was on the crest of a wave of good will and enthusiasm that Labour came back to power after 18 years in opposition in 1997, The years that followed up until 2008 saw a sustained period of economic growth and increasing levels of public spending on the daily services upon which ordinary people depend. It was against this background that the Labour Government gave high priority to international development expenditure which resulted in many achievements of which we can be proud.
But in 2015 it will not be like that. We have, of course, seen an unprecedented period of austerity with reductions in real living standards for many people even when the recovery is said to be underway. The election of a Labour Government will not reverse this overnight. In addition, we have seen the expenses scandal which has fuelled public cynicism about politics and politicians.
In such a context, how to we justify retaining the level of priority for international development to which we aspire? If we cannot convince enough of our key voters, when campaigning on the ground, we will not be in a position to implement anything!
How does this look from the grass roots? From the corridors of Westminster, this may not seem such a challenge. But imagine yourself in a suburb such as Lockleaze in Bristol, once prosperous with good jobs and decent services, but now a place where many people struggle to make ends meet. Low wages, rising prices, part time and zero hours contracts, high levels of debt, benefit cuts and massive reductions in public services are now characteristic of the area. Located in the marginal, Tory held constituency of Bristol NW, we must convince people that Labour really can make a difference. What role does international development play here? Maybe something just not to talk about?
Decent work? Yet the erosion of rights and rewards in the UK are created by the same neo liberal economic model which has ensured that the fruits of economic growth enjoyed by countries in receipt of UK Aid via DFID have not always been fairly shared. It is the same model that is putting ever downward pressures on wages and terms and conditions for people in the UK too. Multinational companies and elites have profited, but the urban poor and people in rural areas have often been left behind. A commitment to decent work as part of our post 2015 approach to international development would help to embed rights at work, social protection and social dialogue as well as job creation will help share wealth more equally. This in turn will increase consumer demand and thereby strengthen domestic economies and reducing dependence on international trade which is often very vulnerable to changing prices and other factors. It will also help to counter the ever downward pressure on labour costs which is having such awful consequences for ordinary people whether in Lockleaze or Lesotho.
By putting decent work at the centre of our international development agenda, we are not only bettering the lives of people elsewhere but we are also helping to challenge a system which is pressing hard on communities here in the UK too.