It’s the jobs, stupid…

February 2, 2013 12:55 pm

The Millennium Development Goals were a bold and challenging agenda, and it is absolutely right that we should meet their expiration with a renewed sense of high expectations, as well as a cold, hard look at what worked and what didn’t.

The MDGs weren’t the first attempt to codify a radical agenda for change into a shortlist of objectives. President Obama’s restatement of the US Constitution’s commitment to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” demonstrates how such goals can have continuing resonance, although had the management consultant Mitt Romney have won, he would surely have objected to their failure to observe the requirement that such goals be time-limited and measurable.

I have another set of ground-breaking objectives in mind when I suggest that the successor to the MDGs should be shorter and more focused on key changes that will have a game-changing impact on global poverty. Like today’s global leaders, William Beveridge was planning for the future in the middle of a crisis. He argued for an end to the ‘five giant evils’ of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.

Over the next 15 to 20 years, western Europe (for while Beveridge was writing for Britain, his report was widely inspirational) did a great deal to slay those giants, backed by the investment of the Marshall Plan (arguably the equivalent of the UN overseas development aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Income.)

The post-war boom that the welfare state enabled shows what the war against global poverty can deliver, and it has lessons for industrialised countries as well as the poorest. It was founded on full employment, national health services, education reform and social protection. It achieved most in democracies where unions and employers bargained collectively for productivity gains based on formal employment and higher wages. It led to societies where concerns about the environment and equality became more salient than ever before.

That’s a vision I would be happy to see adopted in the post-2015 development agenda:

  • sustainable growth based on decent work;
  • a social protection floor, comprehensive health services and quality education; and
  • rights-based democracies with strong civil societies.

I would argue that decent work for all is the foundation for all the others, and is truly transformative as well as delivering specific benefits.

It is the only way to ensure that societies have the stable tax base (as long as we close down tax havens, certainly) required to reduce reliance on overseas aid in funding social protection, health and education.

Trade union experience, from Kenya in the 1960s to Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa in the 1990s (via Poland in the 1980s – again, what holds for developing countries often holds in the north too), is that work lays the foundation for the organisations and the politics that can overthrow dictatorships and embed vibrant democracies. And even in those democracies, workers’ demands for higher pay and social wages are vital to reducing the inequality of income that even the IMF and OECD accept holds back growth and stunts economies. That’s why decent work includes collective bargaining and employment rights, not just better jobs and social protection.

Decent work was an indicator for MDG1b, but there is a widespread acceptance now that it was the indicator that received least attention. The impact of the global financial crisis since 2008 has left employment in a parlous state, not just in the OECD economies where the crisis was incubated, but even more in the global south. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just published data showing that while unemployment rose by 1 million in industrialised economies last year, it rose by three times that number in the emerging and developing economies.

Providing people with gainful employment (not jobs at any price, but work that requires and develops skills, adds value to raw materials and components, and pays a living wage) can have an enormous impact on development.

It stimulates the domestic demand that fuelled the consumer booms of 1950s USA and 1960s Britain. It would put food on the table where there currently is none, addressing the major problem of hunger which is unequal distribution of a sufficiency of food.

It provides the tax required to provide for the ‘automatic stabilisers’ that make economies resilient to recessions (basically, unemployment insurance), as well as to fund pensions, health care for all free at the point of need, and quality public services.

It requires an educated and skilled workforce, childcare and eldercare, and offers a way for families to sustain themselves without recourse to taking children out of school, as well as paying for trained teachers who can deliver a quality education and not just (albeit eminently quantifiable) bums on seats.

And decent work requires responsible capitalism: I don’t care whether that responsibility is freely given, encouraged by collective bargaining or required by regulation, but experience at least suggests the first is unreliable.

It also requires the reversal of current trends towards informal and precarious work, but this is not impossible. In the 1930s, my granddad was an unregistered street vendor, my uncle and aunt domestic workers. That they lived in Cardiff and Plymouth indicates that transforming an informal labour force into what our US cousins call ‘the middle class’ is eminently achievable in years rather than decades.

In the UK, we used to think that absolute poverty at home already was history. That poverty was a matter of geography alone. Now we face a common struggle to remake the world in Beveridge’s image.

This post is part of International Development weekend on LabourList – you can join the debate on these issues at YourBritain

Latest

  • Featured Why are you Labour?

    Why are you Labour?

    Why are you a member of the Labour Party? I’d been a member for years when someone first asked me that question. On some level I guess I knew the answer, but no-one at any Constituency Labour Party meeting, canvassing session, conference – or even in the pub  –  had ever outright asked me the question. It was Arnie Graf – an American, rather than someone steeped in the party their whole life – who asked me. It was an obvious […]

    Read more →
  • News Eddie Izzard commits to running for “Parliament or Mayor” by 2020

    Eddie Izzard commits to running for “Parliament or Mayor” by 2020

    Comic and actor Eddie Izzard has reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to entering electoral politics by 2020, by going for a Labour parliamentary selection or London Mayor. Izzard is a lifelong Labour supporter (and Londoner) and has spoken in the past of his desire to become London Mayor. However, the recent announcement that Boris Johnson does not intend to stand for a third term has raised the chances of Labour winning the mayoralty in 2016, and thus there being a Labour incumbent in […]

    Read more →
  • News Jowell takes on new London-based role before potential mayoral bid

    Jowell takes on new London-based role before potential mayoral bid

    Tessa Jowell has taken on a new role lecturing at the London School of Economics (LSE), which should give her the time to concentrate on a likely campaign to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor. Jowell, who is standing down as an MP next year, has started her post as Professor of Practice with the LSE Cities and in the Department of Government part-time. Jowell is currently considered one of the front-runners in the race for Labour’s candidacy, but all […]

    Read more →
  • Comment What Scotland requires from Labour right now is energy and clarity

    What Scotland requires from Labour right now is energy and clarity

    There are just over two weeks left until a decision that will alter Scotland – and Britain – irrevocably and immensely. Many voters have already completed their postal votes, and the campaign is as intense as any Scotland has known. The impact of a yes vote in the independence referendum would reverberate through the entire nation like an earthquake. Our nation as we currently understand it would cease to exist, a constitutional crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Labour suspends party members over Rotherham abuse investigation

    Labour suspends party members over Rotherham abuse investigation

    It’s reported this morning that Labour Party have suspended four members in relation to the findings found by the investigation into child abuse in Rotherham, which were released last week. The party have said that the four individuals in question – Jahangir Akhtar, Councillor Shaukat Ali, Councillor Gwendoline Ann Russell and Councillor Roger Stone - have been suspended pending investigation.   Alongside these four suspensions, the party have said that two former members – Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright and former councillor Maurice Kirk – […]

    Read more →