We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of international development in the election campaign

Since the publication of the party manifestos over the last couple of weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the key differences in terms of economic, health and immigration policy, among others, writes Dr Sagarika Dutt.

But we haven’t heard very much about international development. The importance of this as an election issue should not be underestimated. The United Nations will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this year, building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals centred on poverty, health, education and the environment and were, to a large extent, shaped by the UN Conferences of the 1990s. The British government and civil society, including international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), have always claimed that they are committed to achieving these goals. But this cannot be taken for granted. The election manifestos provide clarity on the international developmental goals of the various political parties, and how much money they are willing to spend to achieve them. Unless a firm commitment is made by the political parties in their manifestos and voters are able to hold them to their promises, some of these policies may never be implemented. The good news is that there are now half a billion fewer people living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, partly as a result of economic advances in the developing world, particularly in Asia.

But the report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 development agenda points out that the MDGs did not focus enough on reaching the very poorest and most excluded. It also gives other criticisms of the MDGs – they were silent on the devastating effects of conflict and violence on development and did not give sufficient importance to good governance, inclusive growth, and the need to integrate the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development. There is also a growing realisation that we need to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production, although according to the UN, ‘the 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent’. This is the context in which the positions of the various British political parties on International Development are considered.

All G7 countries should ideally contribute 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to International Development and that is precisely what the Conservative Party has promised to do in their manifesto. In a section entitled ‘Tackling global challenges to help to make you safer and more prosperous’, the party emphasises that ‘tackling global poverty is both the right thing to do and in Britain’s interests.’ The Conservative government has delivered on its promises to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid and to enshrine this in law. The manifesto asserts that the party will continue to meet the 0.7% target, maintain an independent Department of International Development (DFID) and keep aid untied.

Labour too considers Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to be an important international obligation, as do the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. Labour’s manifesto claims that it is an internationalist party and believes that Britain should play a proactive role in the world. It commits the party to working with other countries at this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Summit ‘to unite the world to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle growing economic inequality and place human rights at the heart of development’. It also promises to put climate change at the centre of its foreign policy, and adopt a multilateral approach to global challenges. The Liberal Democrats also assert that we need to build on the progress made in achieving the MDGs and work to eliminate absolute poverty by 2030. They claim credit for introducing the International Development Act 2015 which now puts overseas development assistance above party politics by committing the government to meeting the UN target of 0.7% of GNI.

The Green Party makes similar commitments. They would increase the overseas aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 1 % of GDP. Aid will not be tied, and will be distributed in ways that are focused on poverty eradication, support for grassroots initiatives, women’s rights and environmental sustainability, while respecting local priorities. They will also help poorer countries fund climate change adaptation and build resilient communities through the UN Adaptation Fund. UKIP is the only party that will drastically reduce the overseas aid budget (by around 80%) as it feels that charity begins at home. This is one of the methods it will employ to reduce the deficit.

All the major political parties realise that Britain has an important role to play in world politics. This is highlighted in the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Green Party manifestos that look at various aspects such as international security, the environment, especially dealing with global warming and climate change, and international development. As a developed country it has obligations to the developing world, and as a leading member of the United Nations it has to support UN initiatives like the MDGs, and uphold the norms the international community has endorsed in the field of human rights, gender equality, environmental sustainability and so on. The post-2015 development agenda is still taking shape but the fundamental principles on which it will be based are covered by all the election manifestos for the British people to sign up to. The UN promotes liberal values as do most of the British political parties and although some of the manifestos do not mention the UN it is obvious that it is the main vehicle through which they will try to achieve their objectives around the world.

Dr Sagarika Dutt
Subject Leader for International Relations
School of Social Sciences
Nottingham Trent University

This article originally appeared on the Political Studies Association blog

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