Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Justice, not charity

Labour must aim to abolish international aid

—Global policy – whether it is about conflict, trade or economics – occasionally appears to be a discussion at a distance from ordinary British people. In part this is because of the scale of the challenges we face, but also because too often it can seem to be a discussion that is carried out between elites: senior government ministers and officials passing comments through an interpreter at expensive summits.

Having witnessed an economic and financial crash from 2008 that respected no borders, and now in the midst of both a security and public health emergency that threatens us all, it must be clear that the biggest challenges ahead lay bare the world’s interdependence.

And what is also clear is that it is the group of people in the growing middle bracket, wherever they are, who face collective challenges: energy and resources, the gap between wages and prices, the destruction of climate change. We can only make change through political leadership that mobilises, and encourages people to vote for it, across borders.

We need to rethink how our country approaches the world. If all are affected, should all not have a say? And as our anti-poverty ambitions of the past are realised, can we connect up the ambitions of ordinary British people with the growing middle class in countries that have most to lose when we slip back from our commitment to shared, sustainable economic growth? Demonstrating that people across borders have fundamentally similar interests undermines the populist argument that alliances and agreements with others are the problem, rather than the solution.

Look at some of the places we once thought of as poor: Africa now, for example, has the fastest growing middle class in the world. The African Development Bank estimates that the stable middle class – those not at serious risk of slipping back into poverty – will rise from 13 per cent of the continent’s population now to 42 per cent in 2060. There will still, it is estimated, be millions of Africans living below the extreme poverty line, but by 2060 they will be in a minority. Our view of how we shape the world – not via elites, but through a discussion between peoples – must change.

We must have a development policy centred on what the average British person has in common with the average Kenyan, Bangladeshi or Ghanaian – yes, a yearning for a good, comfortable life for themselves and their family, but also that nagging concern that so long as a significant number in their own society suffer crippling poverty and disadvantage, such comfort can only be temporary. We must tackle this inequality. This is why Jim Murphy’s announcement at Labour party conference that a Labour government will seek to ensure universal healthcare is a key part of post-2015 development goals is so welcome. The NHS our country has built should be the model for others, not an exception to be debated.

Trade and work matters more than ever too. When insecurity in the face of powerful global corporations threatens vulnerable workers, it risks wellbeing in Dhaka and Darlington alike. It is for this reason that we are committed to challenging the Conservative view of development that seems to ignore labour markets. We would, for instance, restore the United Kingdom’s commitment to fund the International Labour Organisation – the protective arm of the United Nations against exploitation at work.

In recent months, the development discussion has focused on aid, as we took a well-overdue step to get our commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP given in aid as law. It might seem odd, then, if I say that I hope that one day the 0.7 bill will be repealed. Not because Britain has become less generous, or less seized of the need to tackle crippling global poverty, but because it is no longer necessary. Our job – and it should be the job of the entire development community – is to seek to make aid an anachronism. That is the consequence of working towards an end to inequality.

Having in mind an end to aid – for the right reasons – is what makes us different from the Tories, because we care about justice, not charity. But it is more than that. It is that we are the internationalists in British politics who will make common cause between ordinary families in Britain and ordinary working people across the world.


Alison McGovern MP is a shadow minister for international development


Photo: Defence Images

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Alison McGovern MP

is chair of Progress


  • ‘Ordinary’ families in UK? Not same as ‘ordinary’ families in Dakar, Bangladesh or any other ‘ordinary’ working people across the world. If families had a job the chances are they wouldn’t be in need of Foreign Aid handouts.
    Africans are a very proud people who don’t shirk work and are most industrious in feeding and clothing their families. 89% of starving, below-the-bread-line folk in Africa have never seen a penny of the 0.7% of UK GDP’s Aid programme, and are unlikely ever to do so [!]. If I were head of fundraisers at Poverty donations UK I’d be knocking on World Bank, Banque Mondiales’ doors and asking for audits of the last 55 years’ donations from UK/USA/EU and how they have been disbursed? United Nations seems to do a lot but provide little actual help these days ? And there are some very grey areas viz cash-donations procurement from the UK public via TV Ads.
    PS: to whom are these funds and supplies disbursed and via how many ‘middle-men’?

  • USA, PRC China, United Kingdom and the rest in the ‘West’ [seem to] have many areas of overlap and doubling up on specific areas ref’ the Africa aid programmes – it might be noted that most ‘aid’ goes to those African countries who have a lot of natural mineral and oil fields to hand.
    Its been said many times but its worth repeating, ‘Value-added’ products ie, ‘Made in Africa’, would go a long way to alleviating any politically sensitive so-called free handouts to that continent.
    In 50 years’ time Africa will be giving the ‘West’ hand-outs.
    These chickens are already coming home to roost. If I were a politician I might want to keep on the right side of our African chums – what turns around comes around and what belongs to Africa should stay in Africa. I can see how it all went pear-shaped – greed and then more greed.
    PS send back the Elgin Marbles – they are just a bit of old rock and is it worth the drama?

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