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.