On Tuesday, Theresa May called a UK general election on 8 June. Our experts give their analysis of what the forthcoming party manifestos should contain if the UK is to maintain its global leadership role.
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The UK snap election creates a surprise opportunity to reclaim the mantle of global development leadership after a rocky year. If parties withdraw from commitments to end extreme poverty and reduce their support for the promotion of democracy and good governance, it will reinforce a narrative of retreat from the world.
But, if leaders step forward with bold and innovative ideas in their manifestos about how to make UK aid more effective in a changing and challenging world, they can increase British influence while achieving results. For example, boosting economic growth in Africa with a dramatic increase in renewable energy will benefit the climate and African and British business for decades to come. Or improving economic opportunity and access to family planning to millions of displaced women in the Middle East will empower them and reduce their dependence on external support.
Now is the moment to capture the imagination of the British public with the great things that British aid is capable of.
There are four reasons why the main parties should continue to include the 0.7% aid target in their manifestos:
1. Aid remains critical
Providing even a basic level of education, health and income security for the poorest countries would require an additional $73 billion in aid each year globally. Cuts to existing funding would stretch that shortfall. Many developing countries are growing and increasing their tax revenues, but not fast enough.
2. The UK has a good track record on aid quality
The UK public should be proud of The Department for International Development (DFID)’s track record: in Nepal, it has played an important role in securing access to health services for poor and marginalised people. In Kenya, DFID’s support to the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) has helped keep girls in school, despite the drought. DFID also does well when compared to other donors around the world – in terms of the quality and efficiency of its aid. Publish What You Fund ranks DFID as the fourth most transparent donor.
3. It helps the UK maintain its place on the global stage
Commitment to the 0.7% target is seen as a key indicator of whether countries are prepared to pull their weight internationally. Once it has left the EU, the 0.7% target will be a key test of the UK’s commitment to a ‘global Britain.’
4. It’s in the UK’s national interest
Diverting aid money into security may win points in the short run, but in the long run prevention is more important than cure. The UK has a welcome target of spending 50% of ODA in fragile states. By helping build up institutions, supporting growth and jobs and providing public services in these countries, we can help prevent conflicts, improving our own and global security.
The UK is the world’s third largest donor of humanitarian aid. The public is keen to see the UK keep helping those affected by conflict and disasters, but both the amount of UK humanitarian aid and how it is spent are at risk.
Post-Brexit, UK assistance in conflicts such as Yemen and Syria is vulnerable to being driven by other national interests. If we focus exclusively on trade deals and building new alliances, aid might not get to where it’s needed.
Reducing or redirecting UK humanitarian aid would not only cost lives, it will create a vacuum of leadership. The UK is still looked to internationally as a leader in defending humanitarian values – it is the responsibility of all political parties to continue to champion these.
Parties should support a strong system of humanitarian organisations on the frontline, and this means keeping funding flowing at a time when the world is facing multiple, large-scale crises. It is also about following through on commitments made to the Grand Bargain struck at last year’s World Humanitarian Summit.
To do this well means keeping the right tools across government, including a strong DFID that champions humanitarian issues in Whitehall. Above all, parties need to prioritise the independence of UK humanitarian aid, and demonstrate a meaningful commitment to establishing foreign policies based on humanitarian values, rather than narrow national interests.
Supporting every girl to go to school, saying no to child marriage, and ending female genital mutilation (FGM) are all ambitious commitments the UK has championed globally – under Labour, coalition and Tory governments.
After Brexit, UK aid and DFID’s expertise can help maintain the UK’s reputation as a world leader in advocating for and investing in these basic rights and freedoms. By supporting girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East through evidence-informed policies and programmes the UK is simultaneously tackling poverty and promoting economic development and prosperity for all.
The main parties should commit to five top international development priorities for women and girls:
1. Maintaining the 0.7% aid commitment, as spending on women and girls risks being cut first if aid is refocused on boosting trade. This is especially important now, as war on women and girls’ reproductive health rights has already begun across the Atlantic.
2. Ensuring more educated girls and women have the means and motivation to delay childbirth, contributing to a more educated and healthy workforce across generations.
3. Continuing to lead efforts to tackle gender-based violence – a problem which affects one in three females globally and has huge health, social and economic costs for all.
4. Speaking out against discriminatory social norms and practices in an effort to end FGM, combat early and forced marriage, and eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking.
5. Protecting and providing opportunities for the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls in protracted crises and supporting refugees and host communities.
At a minimum, all parties need to commit to maintaining the current aid spend so as to boost UK aid’s powerful voice for girls and women on the global stage.
Trade has been a major force for development over the last 20 years. UK policy, through the EU, has contributed to it. Brexit will have implications beyond the UK, as trade and investment link the British economy with developing countries. Regardless of their stance on Brexit, all parties should commit in their manifestos to a common set of policies on developing countries. They should pledge to:
- secure free trade agreements that do not harm developing countries and negotiate provisions from which they can benefit
- continue assisting developing countries in reducing trade costs and increasing trade capacities
- continue duty free and quota free market access on products from developing countries
- minimise the disruption Brexit may have on value chains for trading materials, components and products between developing countries, the UK and the EU, by leveraging key EU provisions (e.g. mutual recognition)
- encourage the formation of value chains in developing countries by making rules of origin affecting preferential trading terms more flexible
- simplify tariff structures
Finally, in a context of attacks on free trade and the multilateral system, the UK should support the World Trade Organization and defend its mission to eliminate barriers to trade and secure a fair world trade system.
The Brexit campaign was dominated by a heated and often ideological debate on migration, fuelled by scaremongery and rarely informed by facts. Many voters were left worried and fearful and demanded a plan to regain control of national borders, which the Brexiters promised.
To deliver on Brexit, the future Prime Minister will need to deliver on managing migration. To achieve this, they will need to change tack and propose a credible and pragmatic plan of action, based on the following three points.
1. Do what makes sense for Britain. Scrap the net migration target, which cannot be delivered. Instead, focus on building tailored approaches and regulatory frameworks. This applies to not only EU nationals in the UK, but also sectors such as the NHS and the care economy, universities, and the construction industry, and places where migrants are needed such as London, Manchester and Birmingham. This is what business leaders are asking for and what the UK economy needs; it would be a mistake not to act in the national interest.
2. Increase legal routes for refugees and other migrants to better manage flows. Restrictive policies and tightened borders can result in more irregular flows, which will make it harder, not easier, for the government to manage and control migration. Legal routes will help predict flows, make pragmatic decisions about quotas, skill gaps, and hosting costs, and enhance the benefits to the economy.
3. Stand by British values and international commitments. The UK must uphold its values of openness and solidarity if it truly wants a ‘Global Britain,’ and deliver on legal commitments to welcome refugees fleeing violence and war. Parties should commit to reinstating the Dubs Amendment, upholding the commitments of the 1951 Convention, and showing international leadership on refugees, if they are serious about maintaining Britain’s standing as a global player in a post-Brexit world.
Whatever parties say about aid and development more broadly, there is one issue on which they agree: inequality – in all its forms – is undesirable. According to the IMF, inequality undermines the durability of growth - while redistribution does not hurt it. There is also evidence that it undermines social cohesion and poverty reduction itself. For instance, had global growth been more equal over the past three decades, 200 million fewer people would be living in extreme poverty today.
It goes without saying that this has domestic and international implications, although the problems manifest themselves differently and more acutely in developing countries. And while inequality is reducing between countries – in large part due to rising incomes in China – it is increasing within countries.
There isn’t complete agreement on the best policies to combat inequality, or prevent it in the first place. But there is clear evidence that the following deliver results across a range of different contexts: universal health coverage, quality education, social protection, increasing wages for the less skilled, land reform and tackling gender and other forms of discrimination. Parties should commit to supporting these policies during this election campaign, at home (where relevant) and abroad.