Poverty is political

February 3, 2013 2:46 pm

The launch of the Enough Food IF campaign by a wide spectrum of British NGOs is to be warmly welcomed. The demands of the campaign, if met, would transform the lives of people around the world who currently suffer poverty, hunger, malnutrition and the appalling diseases that often come with them.

In his speech to the World Economic Forum, David Cameron professed support for the campaigns’ aims, promising that the 0.7% aid target will be met and pledging action at the G8 on tax, food and transparency. With David Cameron also chairing the Panel that will decide the new goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals beyond 2015, it might be thought that Development is the one area where the difference between this Conservative-led government and Labour is small.

That perception is wrong. The difference in the values and ideals of our Parties is large and profound. The divergences in policy outcomes are therefore wide and important.

Practical examples of that abound:

  • The Tories ideological attachment to austerity is not just hurting millions of vulnerable people in this country, it also means that the aid budget is as much as £4.25 billion less than it should have been, because GDP forecasts are down and because George Osborne froze the aid budget for two years.
  • Whilst claiming to support action on tax avoidance and evasion, they have consistently fought against attempts in the EU and G20 to create an international Financial Transactions Tax, and the measures in their March Budget will create a loophole that will allow British companies to avoid paying developing countries up to £4 billion in tax.
  • Their bias towards de-regulation at all costs has seen them block Labour’s proposed amendments to the Financial Services Bill that would increase transparency around food and commodity speculation.
  • There is growing recognition by UN agencies and others that any new Post-2015 goals must explicitly target inequality. Yet, despite co-chairing the Panel that will work on the new goals, David Cameron remains worryingly silent on the issue. Maybe even he recognises the obvious gaps that would be seen between equality rhetoric abroad and inequality reality at home.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum in January, Oxfam launched a new report on the challenges of dealing with global inequality. It is no coincidence that the country that has made the most impressive strides towards reducing inequality in recent years – Brazil – is governed by a social democratic party. President Lula’s Bolsa Família programme, which has continued under President Dilma now reaches 46 million poor families, cutting the number of Brazilians living in poverty by half. Clearly, progress towards reducing poverty and inequality does not happen by chance. It happens by choice – through progressive action undertaken by progressive politicians rather than regressive actions which impoverish whole societies.

That is why last week’s speech by Shadow International Development Secretary, Ivan Lewis MP, outlining Labour’s vision for what should replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 gave huge encouragement by injecting politics and a strong sense of purpose into a discussion that had become far too technocratic. Labour can be proud that it now has a framework for the way in which the next Labour government will promote social justice and human rights, and help to achieve a more equitable and sustainable economic growth around the world.

As Ivan himself acknowledged, that future Labour government could not do it alone. In a global economy we need to forge partnerships with fellow progressives around the world if the vision he outlined is to be fulfilled. We need a new network that brings together not only our old friends, from the Democrats in the US to the Arbeiderpartiet in Norway, but progressives across the globe, from the Partido dos Trabalhadores’ in Brazil to the Indian National Congress in India to the ANC in South Africa.

Such a network should share learning and build a new, radical centre-left policy agenda fit for the 21st Century. And because the battle of ideas cannot be won without organisation, the network should also focus on how we can better assist each other to win more elections – not least by showing how effective development policies have resonance among voters who realise that this will be, more than ever before, the interdependent century.

Poverty is political. It will rise or fall because of the change we choose. Only with social democratic values propelling policies of care, enablement, opportunity, justice, security and liberty, progressive economic thinking, and audacious leadership will we achieve a world in which mass poverty is confined to the past and unknown in the future.

Glenys Kinnock is the Honorary Co-President of the Labour Campaign for International Development. To find out more about LCID and become a member visit LCID.org.uk/joinThis post is part of International Development weekend on LabourList – you can join the debate on these issues at YourBritain.

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