Opinion: What should a progressive post-Brexit aid agenda look like?

A pro-Brexit protester looks on as flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo by: REUTERS / Hannah McKay

Rising and extreme inequality continues to be a key obstacle to reducing poverty — with climate change and conflict further exacerbating the threats and challenges. Even if we doubled the current rates of economic growth in 10 years’ time, about 3.7% of the global population will still be living in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day, unless inequality is reduced.

The United Kingdom has earned a stellar reputation for being a driving force for tackling global poverty and promoting sustainable development. But post-Brexit, and following the upcoming general election, we will urgently need a government that not only champions this record, but raises its ambition even further to ensure that future generations live in a world free from poverty, extreme inequality, and environmental degradation.

A cross-government approach to delivering the SDGs

Despite playing a critical role in developing the SDGs, the U.K. is now lagging behind when it comes to implementation, both at home and abroad. The next U.K. government must re-orient its national and international development strategy to give us a better chance of reaching the ambitious, but achievable, Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The U.K. could show real leadership by adopting policies, both at home and abroad, that tackle the systemic drivers of economic and social inequality between countries and people. But this means embedding the SDGs into every government department through a U.K. SDG implementation plan developed with civil society. It should also take measures to ensure policy coherence across government, so we are no longer in situations where one department is subsidizing fossil fuels while the other is encouraging poorer countries to switch to greener models of energy production and use.

Tackle the climate and environmental degradation crisis with a coherent, consistent, cross-government approach

Science is telling us that we are running out of time on climate change, with the most recent IPCC report clearly warning that we have just over 10 years left to act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Despite poorer countries contributing the least to the climate crisis, they are bearing the brunt of the problem causing mass migration due to flooding, food scarcity due to drought, and conflicts over water scarcity.

The U.K. needs to step up its support to these countries by both committing to and advocating for serious levels of international climate finance that are over and above national aid budgets. No more than 10% of the U.K. aid budget should be allocated for international climate finance otherwise we risk diverting aid away from other issues that are not explicitly climate-related. This is the only way we will make good our promises in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Make public finance work to reduce inequality and poverty

More aid must be channeled directly to governments’ national budgets and spent strengthening state administrations and tax systems. National public finance raised primarily by taxing those who can afford to pay is stable, often aligns with government priorities, strikes the right balance between investment and recurrent expenditure, and is easier to implement than donor-funded spending. Similarly, aid provided via national budgets will also usually be aligned with government development priorities, more predictable and more open to public scrutiny — as national public revenue raising.

Oxford University researchers found that for each $10 per capita increase in tax revenue there was an additional $1 of public health spending per capita. Whereas each $10 increase in GDP per capita was associated with an increase of just $0.10.

Yet, despite the evidence, total aid from all rich country donors to direct budget support has been cut substantially over the last 10 years, falling from just 5% in 2009 to 1.7% in 2016. Public sector aid investment in the world’s poorest countries stands at just 37.6% compared to 61.6% in other developing countries. In 2016, the U.K. was 25% behind its 2020 spending target under the Addis Tax Initiative, which aims to strengthen domestic governance systems and raise more revenue from domestic sources.

Make aid and development inclusive

Donors, including the U.K., are increasingly abandoning their commitments on international aid and development effectiveness principles, one of which is the importance of country leadership and ownership of development strategies. This should include all actors with a stake in development: parliaments, civil society, private sector, women’s groups as well as minority or underrepresented people such as people with disabilities, the elderly, children, youth, different ethnicities or religious groups, so they have an opportunity to help inform decisions that work best for them and reach those most at risk of being left behind first.

The U.K. could lead the world by example if the next government puts our people and planet first, leaving no one behind by putting our long-established values and standards on international development at the heart of future government policy. And Bond and its 400+ members are not alone in this call, almost two-thirds of the British public believe that tackling poverty in developing countries should be “a major priority” for the U.K. government.

About the author

  • Claire Godfrey

    Claire Godfrey has over 20 years’ experience in a variety of roles campaigning on global poverty and social justice issues. She is currently Bond’s interim director of policy, advocacy, and research. Prior to this role, she held various senior policy and advocacy roles with Oxfam International and Oxfam GB. She also has extensive experience working on EU policy in the areas of trade, aid, tax, and agriculture.