Tories plot to divert aid away from world’s poorest

lChlPlPlBy 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.

David Miliband makes the case for Britain in Europe

david milibandToday in London David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary and current CEO of International Rescue Committee, delivered a speech making the case for the UK to remain in Europe, including why the EU matters for international development.

Some of his comments are reproduced below:

 

 

At the heart of our British success story in the post-war period – not just as a fringe component or some add-on extra – has been our membership of the European Union. Europe is not an alternative to a global Britain; it is the foundation for our role and reach internationally, which is good for us, and I would argue good for stability and security around the world.

The very same outward-looking attitude that took us into Europe, and has kept us in Europe, is the attitude that makes us credible and influential in the wider world. Rather than limit or diminish us, the European Union multiplies British power, British ideas and British values in very direct ways.

  • The EU multiplies British defence policy. We could never tackle Somali pirates, who were holding the coast of Africa to ransom, on our own. As part of the EU, we despatched a highly successful naval force to do just that – the Atalanta force led by the Royal Navy. In 2011, there were 176 attacks; last year, none.
  • Europe multiplies British diplomacy. We sought, on a cross-party basis, across successive governments, a negotiated resolution to the Iranian nuclear program through the EU, which was ahead of the US on this issue, and which convened and drove forward the process to achieve that hugely important goal. When I went to argue in Beijing for Chinese support for sanctions that would help support a negotiated settlement, progress was achieved in part because of the united European position I was able to put forward.
  • Europe multiplies support for British values. We saw the consequences of break-up in the Balkans in the 1990s before the EU had a common foreign policy. It is thanks to the EU’s diplomatic pressure and economic pull that there is now relative peace and stability in the Balkans, despite the refugee crisis. An independent Kosovo, stable Serbia, growing Croatia exist because of agreed EU foreign policy. This is an area where the EU has thrown its weight around, and to good effect.
  • Europe multiplies our development policy. We know the UK overseas aid budget has gone up – but with a British contribution, the EU’s humanitarian aid budget is the largest in the world, and together we are pioneers in good practice. Britain’s membership of the EU has been good for EU humanitarian aid policy, and in the process good for millions of people helped around the world because of the Union’s clout and commitment in this field.
  • Europe massively multiplies our environmental clout. The UK cares about climate change, but we can hardly tackle it alone. Our EU membership has allowed us to drive and deliver a cross-party UK priority on a European scale, and now a global scale.

Where Europe has been weak, and failed to multiply British interests, for example in its dealings with Russia, it is not because Europe has been too united in its policy, but too divided. The answer to a revanchist Russia seeking to flex its muscles around the world is not a weaker EU, but a stronger one.

So Europe multiplies British power, rather than diminishing or constraining it.

The fact is that Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain. That is the patriotic case for us to not just to remain in the EU, but to develop a positive vision for European cooperation for the 21st century.

David Morrissey says ‘Keep the Promise’

At the Gleneagles summit in 2005, the G8 countries made a promise: their aid budgets would be increased to 0.7% of their national income. Now, just 6 years later, there are already signs that some of those countries are failing to live up to their word. The Labour Party, with Harriet Harman at the helm as Shadow International Development Secretary, is demanding that the UK is not added to this list.

Speaking out today, actor David Morrissey has spoken out today, saying “there is much to be proud of, but there’s also much to be done. You can watch the video here

Visit the Keep the Promise website to find out more about Labour’s work, both in Government and in opposition, on increasing aid for the world’s poorest.

Today is World Water Day

World Walks for Water logoToday is World Water Day, and while two fifths of the world live without adequate sanitation and one in eight have no access to safe water, it marks an important day in the international development calendar. Clean water is key to development, not only to halt the staggering loss of life due to water-borne diseases, but because for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, $8 is returned in increased productivity.

443 million school days are lost every year to water-related diseases, yet UNDP research shows that 11% more girls attend school when there is adequate sanitation.

That’s why UK and global charities supported The World Walks for Water – a worldwide campaign that mobilised over 350,000 people in over 60 countries.

Speaking today ahead of her attendance at the Westminster event for the campaign organised by Tearfund and WaterAid, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary, said:

“For many people in the developing world going into the kitchen and turning on the tap for a glass of water is a luxury they can only imagine.

Today I strongly support End Water Poverty in raising awareness of the desperate situation of many people in some of the poorest countries of the world who do not have access to safe water or basic sanitation.

Access to water and sanitation is essential for tackling global poverty. There must be a concerted international effort to step up efforts to stop children dying needlessly from illnesses caused by lack of access to basic sanitation and clear water. The UK’s development aid makes a real difference. The Government must lead efforts to ensure that the billions of people who do not have access to these basic services don’t have to wait any longer.”

In the recent aid review, the Government failed to take the opportunity to invest in better sanitation and has failed to recognise the right to water that was resolved by the UN Human Rights Council last October. While 4,000 children die from water-related illnesses every day, clear leadership is needed from the Government.

You can take action to lobby DFID and Andrew Mitchell MP to be ambitious in their commitments to water and sanitation aid through WaterAid’s new petition.

Select Committee reports on DfID

In this guest post, Anas Sarwar MP writes again for LCID about the work being done on the International Development Select Committee.

Last week saw the publication of the International Development Select Committee report looking into DFID’s Annual Report & Resource Accounts for 2009-2010.  It offers a valuable insight into the key policy areas the coalition government wishes to pursue going forward.  

Some of the main policy areas it touches on include; a major push for efficiency, which will see DFID become the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world; the establishment of a new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), which has been set up to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes; and more work with fragile and conflict affected areas.

 Greater Efficiency and Greater Effectiveness

The Report begins by expressing the Committee’s support for the coalition Government’s commitment to meet the UN agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 which was put in place by Labour.  Unfortunately, the government hasn’t yet taken the final step and given a timetable for enshrining this commitment in law. That is what Labour and our campaign for international development must continue to keep pushing for.

The Government hopes to see DFID becoming the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world, by reducing its running costs to 2% of its total budget.  This is to be done through cutting DFID’s back office costs and increasing spending through multi-lateral organisations.  Although, the Committee’s Report welcomes efficiency, it is imperative that we do not compromise our long term strategic goals and objectives. 

As a Select Committee, no matter where we go or whoever we meet, we are always being told that DFID’s greatest assets are its staff.  I sincerely hope that the Governments efficiency drive will not undermine the fantastic image that DFID staff project of the UK all around the world and more importantly the incredible work of vital frontline staff.

A new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), has been established to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes.  The ICAI –which will be accountable to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee – builds on foundations laid out by Labour in Government, and should ensure that money being spent overseas is effective.  

Where should the focus be? 

At a time when 32 out of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the Millennium Development Goals are in or emerging from conflict it is right to focus aid on such areas.  The Report therefore welcomes the increased priority being awarded to working with these areas as part of a broader development and conflict prevention/resolution agenda. 

However, it issues a cautionary note to the Government in the need for it to recognise the challenges that may arise in redirecting assistance from countries with good governance – where aid is likely to be better spent – to countries that are conflict affected where corruption and bad administration often mean the impact is more difficult to manage and even more difficult to measure.  This is important at a time when the Government is keen to ensure the effectiveness of aid.

Currently 90% of DFID aid goes to low income countries, many of which are graduating from low income to lower-middle income country status.  To support sustainable growth and development, and ensure earlier work is not wasted, we cannot afford to overlook the need for providing ongoing support for these countries, where the prevalence of poverty in the general population remains high. DFID should ensure they continue to focus on the people most in need, not just the countries most in need.

We must now press the government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in to law, and we must provide strong scrutiny to ensure that defence or diplomatic spending is not compromised by being claimed as ODA.   Working with the Shadow DFID team and LCID we must ensure Labour remains the leading voice for development.

Harriet Harman responds to Turks and Caicos loan

The Department for International Development is set to guarantee a loan of £260 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands, which raises serious questions about the Government’s use of DfID’s budget.

Responding to this, Harriet Harman said:

“Following on from the revelation that DFID money was used to fund the Pope’s state visit this looks suspiciously like another example of where the FCO is looking to DFID to bankroll its obligations which are not genuine development issues”

Read Harriet Harman’s letter to LCID’s members

When she was appointed Shadow International Development Secretary, we wrote to Harriet Harman, congratulating her on her new brief and telling her about our work. Harriet’s been back in touch with a letter addressed to all LCID’s members, making it her passion for development clear.

We are really excited about building on the great foundations that we made with the Labour Party over the last 9 months and we’re glad Harriet is as keen to work with us too.

Here’s her letter:

Dear LCID Member

I wanted to get in touch in my role as Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development,  firstly to thank you for all your hard work to date and secondly to outline some of the areas we will be focusing ahead on going ahead.

As you know Labour has much to be proud of when it comes to international development. From tripling the international aid budget to our leadership at Gleneagles we put the UK at the forefront of the fight against global poverty and I am immensely proud of that.

In these difficult economic times and faced with this Government’s deep cuts to public spending it is more important than ever that we make the argument for international development. We cannot turn our backs on the world’s poorest – not only is it morally right to ensure everybody, no matter where they are born, can grow up free of poverty but it is in our national interest. I hope you as an organisation will continue to work to communicate that message.

Moving ahead we will be working to hold the government to account for their promises. We welcome the commitment they made in the Spending Review to reach the target of 0.7% of our GNI on Aid from 2013 but we are worried about how they will get there. That is why we will be calling on them to introduce legislation as soon as possible so there can be no doubt about their commitment.  We will also be urging them to make sure that poverty reduction remains at the heart of our development policy – that is the best way to ensure it is truly effective.

Finally, with the new United Nation’s Women’s agency we, as a party, have a real opportunity to support efforts towards greater gender equality. Of course there are many more areas of international development policy that we will be discussing in the months ahead and I look forward to engaging with you in those conversations.

Labour has a strong International Development team working in parliament. Mark Lazarowicz MP is our Shadow Minister of State, and Rushanara Ali MP is Shadow Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. We all greatly look forward to working closely together with the Labour Campaign for International Development  in the future.

Regards

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development