The UK Labour Party sets out its stall on International Development – here’s why you should take a look

March 28, 2018 7 By Duncan Green

I’ve just been reading the UK Labour Party’s Green Paper on International Development (out this week). ‘Green Labour Party coverPapers’ are not about the colour (this one is actually red), but ‘designed to stimulate discussion and set the direction for the Labour Party’s programme for government.’

I work for an NGO, so a couple of minor gripes first: the party political point scoring is over-done (a bit of bipartisanship would have sounded a better note I think – for example, the Conservatives have done much better on aid volume than anyone predicted) and there’s a bit of hand waving in the section on ‘How Labour will Achieve This Vision’. But overall, there is a lot to applaud here – I hope it stimulates discussion, as intended, and not just within the UK.

Here’s some highlights.

‘Labour will wholeheartedly back the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). [It] will set a second twin objective for all international development work and spending: not only to reduce poverty but also, for the first time, to reduce inequality. Among other things, that will include measuring partner country progress against the Palma Ratio; evaluating all DFID work on the extent to which it reduces income inequality and other inequalities; and bringing like-minded countries together to champion faster action on inequality.

Labour Party fig 1To serve the twin goals of reducing poverty and inequality, Labour will deliver on five key and connected priorities:

  1. A fairer global economy
  2. A global movement for public services
  3. A feminist approach to development
  4. Building peace and preventing conflict
  5. Action for climate justice and ecology’

And there is substance beneath each of those five priorities. Here’s what it says on inequality:

‘To mainstream action on inequality across all DFID programme areas, we will take the following steps at the national level:

  • 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%) and the Palma Premium (the extent to which the incomes of the poorest 40% are growing faster than the richest 10%).
  • All UK-funded international development projects and interventions will be evaluated on the basis of the extent to which they reduce inequalities, alongside other existing criteria.
  • We will go beyond simply measuring and addressing income inequality, and will work towards measuring and addressing inequalities in power and the exercise of rights to ensure that women and marginalised groups, such as indigenous communities, people living with disabilities and LGBTI people, are not left behind.
  • In order to promote these objectives, we will look to appoint a senior civil servant post to lead the government’s international work on reducing inequality.

We will complement these initiatives with global level advocacy:

  • In the first year of a Labour government, the UK will host an international summit bringing together likeminded countries and partners to champion ambitious action on inequality. Ideally, this will become an annual gathering to keep the issue as a top international priority.
  • We will encourage countries to sign up to more ambitious targets than those set in SDG 10, with the goal of halving their existing Palma Ratio by 2030 and achieving a Palma Ratio of 1 by 2040.
  • We will ensure DFID works with the Treasury and uses the UK’s influence to push for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take action on inequality. That will include assessing the institutions’ policies to determine their impact on inequality, as part of a broader multilateral development review.
  • We will call for an international commission to explore the possibility of a global wealth tax, as proposed by economist Thomas Piketty.’

There is a similar level of specificity on the other four targets – well worth a skim.

Finally, there is a nice, clear table of commitments + milestones for the first 100 days, year and five years of Labour Party fig 2government.

I asked our in-house aid watcher, Gideon Rabinowitz, for a second opinion. He echoed my enthusiasm, but pointed to a few potential gaps:

    • ‘How will they reform international aid processes and global institutions to give the south more of a say? There are perennial questions about which institutions should be at the centre of global governance and how the governance of existing Institutions should change that must be addressed.
    • What about going beyond health and education in terms of a sector focus? There are other services and sectors that are important and need more emphasis, including WASH and agriculture, which are strangely not mentioned at all
    • What will they do on inclusive economic development programmes to make them “people” focussed, including an emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, small scale businesses and informal sectors? There is very little here, and they could be emphasising a truly inclusive, poverty focussed and gender-focussed approach
    • Focus on the poorest countries – Will it retain an emphasis on aid volumes going to the poorest countries – especially Least Developed Countries – and reverse recent cuts to these countries? Not much discussion on this
    • Localising aid – There was little recognition that delivering more aid through Southern and local providers will require reforming DFID’s procurement, reporting and management systems, which currently work against these providers.’

I’d welcome other views.