Left Foot Forward: Analysing the Tories’ false claims on development

This is first of many articles we hope to be writing for Left Foot Forward.

Commonwealth flagOn January 1st, Andrew Mitchell was interviewed in The Guardian outlining the Conservatives’ priorities on international development. Here Left Foot Forward analyses some of the Tory claims.

Claim #1: DFID is too scattergun in its approach

In the Conservatives’ Green Paper on development, they claim that DFID spends aid in 102 countries.

However, DFID in fact has only 56 country programmes, with 90 per cent of our aid going to 23 country programmes. The Department for International Development (DFID) outline clear principles when prioritising where aid is spent: levels of poverty, population size, and confidence that the resources with be used effectively.

The 102 figure is actually based on a much longer list of countries that receive small amounts of UK funding via multilaterals, the European Community and British Overseas Territories.

Claim #2: A “proper independent evaluation” of DfID spending and its outputs is needed

DFID is already independently audited by the Independent Advisory Committee on Development (IACDI), which reports to both the Secretary of State and the International Development Committee, as well as evaluations being published on the DFID website

Claim #3: Labour has “under-valued” the Commonwealth. They would focus more aid on the Commonwealth by cutting aid elsewhere, for example cutting the £50m annual aid grant to China

Over 450 million people in China were lifted above the $1 per day international poverty line since the reform process began in 1979, but China still has more than 500 million people still living on under $2 a day. Once again, however, the Conservatives are creating a noise over something that DFID is already doing. The 2006-2011 country plan states that the Government are already phasing out our aid to China:

“We anticipate that by the end of 2011 our partnership will have evolved from a donor-recipient relationship to one largely based on dialogue and cooperation with China on international development issues.”

On the Commonwealth, there appears to be little evidence of Mr Mitchell’s accusation that it is being under-valued by Labour. Despite being repeatedly mentioned by him, their Green Paper gives no evidence of just how Labour “neglected the potential of the Commonwealth”.

Meanwhile, a browse through the DFID country plans of Commonwealth countries gives little evidence either. To give some examples, in the financial year 2008/2009 Bangladesh received £135.7m, India £402.2m (which despite their views on China, Mr Mitchell claims they would preserve), Kenya £109.8m, Malawi £82m, Pakistan £129.7m,Tanzania £142.3m, Uganda £72.1m … and so on.

Claim #4: Government is focussed too much on inputs rather than outputs

Ending the article, Mr Mitchell is quoted as criticising the Government for putting “far too much focus putting large sums of money on the table, for education for example … instead of being focused on outputs [and asking] how many schools do you build and how many teachers you train”.

Once again, the evidence is lacking. Most DFID communications outline the outputs of their work. One such example are the outputs outlined in the Government’s 2009 White Paper (Chapter 5), such as the focus on delivering an additional 10 million malaria bed nets each year from 2010-13 in order to prevent a further 165,000 child deaths, or the commitment to work with others to save the lives of 6 million mothers and babies by 2015.

The priorities outlined by Mitchell in his Guardian interview seem to have one thing in common – a fixation with triviality. Of far greater importance are the Conservative policies in the following three areas:

Firstly, why have they so far refused to guarantee that any aid for climate change adaptation will be additional, and not from our existing aid budget (or at least no more than 10 per cent, as the Government have pledged)?

The Tories have sent out confused messages about supporting the need for “additional mechanisms” but have made no firm commitments to specific figures. Oxfam, among others, are concerned that a Tory government would “divert existing aid provisions to pay for measures such as flood prevention and the introduction of drought-resistant crops”. Oxfam’s chief executive has warned that:

“Forcing poor countries to choose between life-saving drugs for the sick, schooling for their children or the means to protect themselves against climate change is an unfair burden that will only exacerbate poverty.”

Secondly, just as important as how much they have committed to spend, is what will they spend it on? Would their aid force privatisation on poor countries as it did in the 1980s?

In education, the Green Paper stated that they will “seek to harness the accountability and responsiveness of the private sector to help drive up standards and get more children into school”. This was slammed by aid experts including the Director of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on education, who said:

“This is using vulnerable people to advance an ideologically loaded, market-based vision for education, which would exclude millions of kids from school. It completely overlooks the achievements of publicly financed, publicly provided education in countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania.”

On healthcare, the Green Paper stating that:

“Rather than aiming to replace or eliminate the private sector from healthcare, we will seek to work with governments and the private sector to help them achieve the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals].”

This too has drawn a lot of criticism from Non-Governmental Organisations, with Oxfam’s research demonstrating that:

“The vast majority of evidence shows that public services deliver best for poor people in most countries.”

Third, what do their proposed changes to DFID mean to its status as an independent Government department?

It is unclear how their pledge to maintain DFID independence reconciles with Mr Mitchell’s musings in this interview that they will “perhaps wire it in a little bit better into the Whitehall constellation”, or this interview in the Independent in which he said that “the Foreign Office will be given much greater influence over the use of overseas aid should the Tories win the next election”, and the numerous on-record calls for DFID to lose its independence by senior Tories including John Major.

by David Taylor, Chair, Labour Campaign for International Development