Labour’s priorities for international development: highlights and insights

27 March 2018

Shadow secretary of state for international development Kate Osamor launched Labour’s new vision for international development on 26 March. “A world for the many not the few” [PDF] highlights Labour’s key priorities within international development and announced 34 actions it would take if it were in government. 

The paper highlights issues of gender justice, climate change and inequality, which underpin the SDG agenda, and firmly places politics at the centre of the development debate.

Labour’s five key political priorities are: 

1.    A fairer global economy 

  • Stepping up technical assistance to low and middle-income countries to increase their tax base and crackdown on tax avoidance. 
  • Testing new models of ownership including cooperatives. 
  • Reviewing DFID’s economic development strategy. 

2.    A global movement for public services 

  • Increasing the proportion of official development assistance (ODA) spend given to strengthen public health and education services. 
  • Creating a new centre of universal health coverage to provide technical and policy assistance to support universal public health systems. 
  • Ending the UK’s support for public-private partnerships overseas in health and education.  

3.    A feminist approach to development  

  • Tripling DFID’s funding support for grassroots women’s organisations. 
  • Mainstreaming gender across all of DFID’s work. 
  • Increasing technical assistance to partner governments who prioritise gender.

4.    Building peace and preventing conflict 

  • Increasing humanitarian spending on crisis prevention rather than response. 
  • Testing new models of humanitarian assistance including cash transfers.
  • Replacing the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund with a “transparent, human rights-focused peace fund”.  

5.    Action for climate justice and ecology

  • Ensuring that DFID does not fund fossil fuel projects. 
  • Reinvesting in renewable energy infrastructure.
  • Developing alternative measures of well-being and economic success outside traditional GDP growth. 

Four wider key themes emerge from the paper 

Inequality

Labour’s central thesis is that inequality sits at the heart of development. Labour proposes that inequality and poverty should be viewed as equal and twin objectives for all of DFID’s work and aid spending. The paper not only re-affirms the UK to achieving the SDGs, it pledges any potential Labour government to go beyond the inequality commitments outlined in SDG 10. Under the proposals outlined, future measures of inequality would use the Palma measure (ratio of income between the bottom 40% and top 10%) with a new goal to halve Palma ratio scores by 2030 and achieve equality between these two income groups by 2040. 

To underscore the importance of inequality, Labour also pledges to hold an international conference within the first year of any potential future Labour government alongside creating a new senior civil service post within DFID to lead work on this issue.  

Gender

Labour argues that it will implement the UK’s first “explicitly feminist international development policy”. This approach would aim to go beyond DFID’s recently announced gender strategy [PDF] and would seek to make gender a cornerstone of UK development policy. Labour commits itself to tripling the amount of aid given to grassroots women’s organisations, implement what it calls a “gender transformative” approach across DFID’s work as well as also providing technical assistance to partner governments to increase capacity on gender issues. 

However, while the paper highlights the importance of increasing gender audits, impact assessments and budgeting, it fails to discuss the unequal division of unpaid care work which has been highlighted as the key barrier to increasing women’s economic empowerment by several Bond members

Official development assistance

The paper argues for a new refocused aid strategy and a change in how ODA is spent. While not dismantling cross departmental spending of ODA, the paper echoes the wider concerns [PDF] that cross departmental aid spending are opaque and lack accountability. As a result, Labour would freeze further increases in ODA allocated across Whitehall until these had been addressed. To this end, Labour would update international development legislation to ensure that all ODA spending focuses on poverty and inequality reduction, and that all aid, regardless of department, meets provisions of all international development acts. Labour would also scrap the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, a highly criticised method of aid spending, as well as seek to review and replace DFID’s current economic development strategy [PDF]

Civil society space

Labour also commits to protect civil society space in the UK and global south and channel funding to civil society. To do this, Labour would repeal the Lobbying Act as well as create new funding streams for both UK and southern-led civil society organisations and activists. This includes a promise to establish a new social justice fund to directly support civil society activists in the global south. One aim of this is to give more influence to local civil society organisations, given the critical role southern civil society plays in responding to humanitarian crisis, as well as lifting their own communities out of poverty when provided with the support and resources needed. It also includes a pledge to restore strategic and flexible funding for UK civil society organisations through a PPA-type mechanism. 

We advocate to ensure the UK’s policies around development and aid are effective, transparent and reduce global poverty. Check out our highlights from last year's Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems conferences.