10 highlights from Labour's ‘A World For the Many, Not the Few’
26 March 2018
The Labour Party’s new development policy, released by shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor today, represents a big step forward. It also represents many of the ideas and policies that Global Justice Now has been campaigning for over many years. It’s worth reading the whole document, but here are 10 highlights if you’re too busy:
1. Reducing inequality should become a legally binding priority for DfID
Gone is the thinking that inequality is irrelevant as long as you tackle extreme poverty. Inequality is vitally important to creating a better world where everyone can enjoy their human rights and we can tackle climate change.
Labour proposes passing legislation to ensure all aid money must be spent fighting inequality as well as poverty. This gives much less scope for the support of privatisation and market liberalisation that we’ve too often seen in the past. Labour promises to apply this to all aid – even if it’s being spent by departments other than the Department for International Development (DfID).
Labour also tries to adopt better indicators of what ‘inequality’ means, notably taking up an important Oxfam suggestion that “We will make reducing income inequality a key metric in the countries DfID partners with, adopting the Palma Ratio (the ratio of income between the richest 10% and the poorest 40%)”.
Most exciting, they promise to “host an international summit bringing together like-minded countries and partners to champion ambitious action on inequality” and to “call for an international commission to explore the possibility of a global wealth tax.”
2. A structural approach to development
Labour wants to hardwire structural change into development. This goes way beyond aid. Much of this requires international cooperation of course, but their scope is wide and encompasses many of our concerns on trade, debt, tax and corporate power.
On trade, for instance, there’s a recognition that “Unfair trade deals threaten the UK’s own food safety and jobs, but they also undercut the industries of poor nations, drive down workers’ wages, trap women in unskilled, low paid jobs, and roll back environmental protections.”
Many of the specific policy prescriptions need more fleshing out, but there is a commitment to ensuring “that the UK’s own approach to international trade, taxation and debt supports poverty and inequality reduction... promoting transparency measures such as registering beneficial ownership of firms... [and] stepping up technical and policy assistance to support low income countries to clamp down on tax avoidance and build their tax base through progressive taxation.”
Labour also wants to develop a better measure of wellbeing than GDP and provide “global leadership on the refugee crisis, including lobbying for the most ambitious and progressive global agreements possible.”
3. Stop privatising aid...
There’s a clear recognition that the use of aid to privatise and liberalise has been totally unhelpful in the fight against poverty and inequality, with a particular mention of the private schools DfID is supporting in Africa – like Bridge International schools – which we’ve campaigned against for the last few years.
Labour promises to end “the UK’s support for public-private partnerships overseas, including initiatives such as Bridge International’s fee-paying education academies and PFI schemes in healthcare.”
4. …. and support public services
Instead, Labour would place a major focus on supporting public services, recognising the vital role that the building of the welfare state had on poverty in Britain. They promise a special focus on public health and education. For instance: “Increasing the proportion of ODA [aid] pent on helping partner countries strengthen public health and education services... [and] stepping up, through a new Centre for Universal Health Coverage, technical and policy assistance to support low income countries to strengthen and expand their own free, universal public health systems.” As we say, an NHS for the world!
They also promise to support alternative forms of ownership to the private sector, “testing, investing in and taking to scale alternative models of ownership, including cooperatives and local ownership.” This is a very significant step that we hope will be a wake-up call to those charities which have developed an obsession with the private sector.
5. Radical reform of international institutions
Britain cannot, and should not, change the world on its own. There is much discussion of the role Britain will play in persuading other rich countries to reform international structures. For instance: “Supporting progressive international reforms for a fairer global economy, including for example the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, a global financial transactions tax, the tightening of rules governing corporate accountability for abuses in global supply chains, and debt cancellation mechanisms for unpayable debts.”
They also promise to promote “reform and democratisation within global economic governance institutions, including the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation” and, important for our pharma campaign, “fairer international patent regimes that do not prevent developing countries from accessing essential public health medicines.”
6. Coordination across government so other policies don’t undermine development
For a long time we’ve argued that aid does not make up for all the negative things our governments do. We need an approach that covers all governments departments – especially the foreign, defence and business departments. We need a real ethical foreign policy.
Labour accepts this, in several places in the paper, and promises to ensure “an annual whole-of-government plan is in place across government departments, setting out development objectives for the year with measurable indicators, and signed off by the Secretary of State for International Development.... We will create a new Cabinet Committee on International Development, chaired by the Secretary of State for International Development... [and] we will ensure that an empowered DfID is actively represented in policy areas led by other areas of government... as we work towards an integrated ethical foreign policy that puts human rights and social justice at the heart of the UK’s diplomatic, defence and development objectives.”
In particular, it promises “an integrated human rights-based foreign policy... to prevent conflict and build peace”. And, as we argued last year, they will replace the secretive “Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, widely criticised for securitising aid and neglecting human rights, with a transparent, human rights-focused peace fund.”
7. A feminist development strategy
Inequality is not just about wealth and income. There is also the gender dimension of poverty, and we fully support the proposal for a ‘feminist development strategy’. This strategy will need further elaboration in future, but the paper makes it one of five priorities, and has a series of promises, including to triple “DfID’s funding support for grassroots women’s organisations through a new funding mechanism”.
8. Tackling climate change by supporting energy democracy
Another major priority is climate change, with a recognition that those most affected are those least responsible. There’s a promise to “ensure that UK aid does not support fossil fuel projects, divesting DfID from fossil fuels as soon as possible”, and, in support of calls for energy democracy, these funds would be reinvested in “renewable energy infrastructure, and working to ensure that this infrastructure is publicly-owned, decentralised and community-controlled wherever possible”.
9. Charity is not enough – and a charitable approach is often unhelpful
One of the most exciting things about the paper is the change of language – no longer about ‘poor Africa’ and ‘generous Britain’ but the common needs and rights of all. There’s a strong recognition that charity is not enough – and can even be unhelpful: “What people need and want in the UK, people need and want everywhere: our needs, our rights and our struggles to achieve them are one and the same....The same forces that exploit and impoverish the peoples of the global South also exploit and impoverish the citizens of our own country.... We must move beyond charity, and advance instead a vision of fairness. We must address the root causes of the crises we face, and not just the symptoms”.
This is the language we’ve always spoken, and Labour now says that “People are increasingly aware that poverty, income inequality and gender inequality are not natural – they are created. They are symptoms of an unfair system that funnels wealth and power into the hands of a few. Our globalised economy has been designed over several decades to benefit a few at the expense of the many”. It promises that: “Wherever possible, we will move away from a narrative of aid and charity and towards one of rights and international social justice”.
Labour also challenges the development charities themselves, who have too often played into an unhelpful ‘charity’ story. This is especially acute in the wake of the recent aid scandals and the paper states: “There must be a redistribution of power within the development industry itself”.
10. These issues are about social justice and redistribution of power – not technical fixes
Part of the solution must be about telling a different story, one of social justice. That also means supporting others to tell this bigger story about global justice to educate and involve a new generation of people. After all, it’s only through this so-called ‘development education’ from the 1970s onwards that we convinced Britain of why aid, debt cancellation and trade justice were so necessary. This has all been stripped away over the last 10 years, and it must be rebuilt.
As well as scrapping the Lobbying Act, Labour promises to “restore ambitious development education” including “a permanent mechanism for civil society and activists from across the British public and global South countries to be consulted on government policy and improve people’s engagement in DfID’s work”.
In short, “Labour will always seek to redistribute power to people, not only as the objective of international development but also as its means: international development must be for the many, by the many”.
Global Justice Now's role
To see this kind of language and these policies adopted by the largest opposition party is remarkable. It is a testament to the work of Global Justice Now activists and members up and down the country who have put these issues on the political agenda over many years, and continue to work to make sure they stay there.
Of course, there is a long way to go. If Labour gets an opportunity to put its policies into practice in the future, it is the role of campaign groups like ours to pressure them to carry out what they’ve pledged. And in the meantime, we must continue our work to persuade more political parties – and the present government – to take them up. If you’re not a member of Global Justice Now already, we need your support. Why not make today the day you join us?
Nick Dearden was a member of the International Development Taskforce which helped collect evidence for Labour's new policy.
Photo: Kate Osamor speaks at the Labour Party conference. Credit: Rwendland/Wikimedia