At a time when the world is at its wealthiest, yet inequality is at its highest, reshaping the UK’s international development policy is vital in bringing about a fairer world. The challenges we face are vast: one in nine people across the globe still go hungry, one in five children live in conflict, 40 million people are displaced from their homes and the world is facing an ecological breakdown.
Yet at the same time, research by Oxfam has found that just 26 people now own the same wealth as half of all humanity – 3.8 billion people combined. This is symptomatic of a global economy rigged in favour of a few, concentrating power in the hands of a small number of wealthy individuals. Not only is this level of inequality morally abhorrent, but the growing gap between rich and poor actually undermines attempts to eradicate global poverty. More unequal societies also have more health and social problems and are less able to sustain economic growth.
Poverty will not be solved by philanthropy and charity. Poverty is political; poverty is structural. People are poor because there is an uneven distribution of power in the world.
Years of unfair trade deals, tax dodging and the rapacious extraction of natural resources from the world’s poorest countries have resulted in a very manmade crisis. Labour’s vision is to put justice, not charity, at the heart of our vision for international development.
Central to Labour’s approach will be a focus on building and supporting public services in the countries where the Department for International Development (DFID) works. We know from our experiences in the UK, through the NHS and our state school system, that public services are integral to ensuring that people can realise their right to a dignified life.
Labour will establish a new unit for public services within DFID, focused on strengthening the public sector in the countries where we work. Based on the principles of universality, accessibility and democratic accountability, financed through progressive taxation and delivered ‘free at the point of use’ by a skilled public workforce, public services are a powerful force for equality, social justice and economic development.
We firmly reject the Tories’ approach of putting the needs of private businesses at the centre of its strategy. Our approach is to put people, not profit, first. This would mark a real break from the Tory policy of exporting the privatisation of public services through its international development strategy.
But public services are only one part of the plan. We have big ambitions for Labour’s international work. Of course, DFID can’t do it alone, which is why we are committed to a more coherent cross-department approach. We want to ensure that the work of one government department doesn’t undermine that of another.
Where the Tories have undermined positive international development work through incoherent policies – including selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition while sending aid to Yemen – Labour will take immediate steps to ensure policy coherence with a cross-departmental approach.
In June, Labour’s international development team made a joint announcement with the shadow treasury team that, when in government, we will bring in a new overseas loan transparency act to put an end to exploitative loans and to prevent a new global debt crisis.
We will ensure that our international development policies are aligned with the UK’s policies on trade, tax, and foreign affairs to tackle the root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change – not just their symptoms.
And Labour will make sure all our aid spending tackles inequality by setting a twin objective for all development spending: that it should not only reduce poverty, but also reduce inequality.
Labour will develop a truly feminist development strategy that puts civil society and people from the global south front and centre of our work.
The next Labour government will use international development to put our values – of social justice, solidarity and fairness – into practice on a global scale.
If that sounds ambitious, it is. We could not be more ready.