The pandemic. The climate crisis. Environmental degradation and destruction. Rising poverty and inequality. The challenges facing the world right now are vast.
Yet even as their scale often escapes comprehension, in the UK we recognise our duty to tackle them – not only because they make us all less safe at home and abroad, but because they mirror so many of the challenges our families and communities know only too well.
The pandemic has been a moment for us to recognise the common cause we have with people around the globe, and reimagine what we want our society to look like. Instead, our government has chosen this moment to retreat from the world stage.
This is wrong. Our efforts to defeat poverty across the globe and our fight for equality for all is not only the right thing morally but it is in our self-interest. It is an investment towards creating a safer and fairer world and Britain.
Labour has always believed the answers to global problems lie in working together, by collaborating and building partnerships with others. That is why I am proud and inspired to lead Labour’s development team to ensure our global commitments to the world’s poorest never waver.
Under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it was a Labour government that helped lift three million people out of poverty every year; who helped to get 40 million more children into school; and who, at the time of the financial crash in 2008, did not pull up the drawbridge, but redoubled its commitment to support the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.
Fast-forward to today and Britain’s response to this crisis could not have been more different. Less than 1% of sub-Saharan Africa has been fully vaccinated, three billion people live without basic hand-washing facilities and 47 million women and girls are being pushed into extreme poverty.
Aid cuts across the board and the missed opportunities that come with them are a death sentence for many in the global South. What’s more, they signal to our allies and enemies that Britain is in retreat; no longer willing to lead.
It will take a global effort to tackle the greatest global challenges of our time. Time and time again, our government has actively stepped backwards. From frustrating efforts to upscale global vaccine manufacturing and distribution, to cutting direct aid to ground-breaking research focusing on identifying and tracking new Covid-19 variants in Brazil and India. These actions risk the further spread of the virus and the mutation of new, more dangerous variants, which can make their way back to the UK.
Sadly, we’ve come to expect little else from this government, but we should not accept it. On the contrary, Labour and those across our country who know what a positive difference we can and do make, must stand up.
We all need to be louder in speaking about the impact UK aid and development work makes and how it benefits us here at home, and prouder about the contribution Britain can make in realising a better, safer world. For politicians, this means meeting and working with people to deliver their priorities.
Over the last year, in events around the country, I have been moved by the immense generosity of the British public, totally at odds with the insulting claims from ministers that we don’t care about people dying in countries like Yemen.
Under Labour, our development policy will build on this solidarity and use the UN’s universal Sustainable Development Goals and the central maxim of “leave no one behind” to unite us across borders and create a post-Covid blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. We will work with communities, charities, faith groups, climate groups and NGOs to provide the vision that this government refuses to.
While Labour’s immediate focus will remain the health, economic and social impacts of the Covid pandemic, over the next year I will set out a bold and positive policy platform prioritising five longer-term priorities to tackle the global problems facing us all:
- Humanitarian support, embedding prevention in our work as well as crisis response.
- Climate and nature, averting environmental disaster and thrive alongside our planet instead of at its expense.
- Social protections and public services, building on the success of universal provision of the NHS and education in the UK.
- Gender equality, tackling deep-rooted, structural gender inequalities.
- Creating jobs and opportunities, which are better for the worker and contribute to a world we want to live in.
While this government is no longer interested in playing its part, Labour will. We are committed to bringing people together to deliver a positive vision for development that all of us can be proud of.