LONDON — On Monday, the United Kingdom’s Labour Party aid head Kate Osamor launched the opposition party’s strategy for overhauling international development policy. Osamor pledged a double-barrel mandate of poverty and inequality reduction if elected — in contrast to the current government’s focus mainly on poverty reduction — with a greater focus on local delivery partners, women-led initiatives, and reforming the global tax system.
Questions were also raised among aid observers about suggestions that humanitarian funding could be redirected toward prevention.
Although the party has moved away from early suggestions it would consider ending the use of private sector firms in the government’s aid work, the new strategy outlines plans for a review of implementation practices, promising to localize delivery and explore a new, in-house implementing function at the Department for International Development.
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Osamor, shadow secretary of state for international development, also pledged to “end the U.K.’s support for public-private partnerships overseas,” citing DFID’s previous support for controversial private education provider Bridge International Academies.
Asked whether she had concerns about other U.K.-funded PPPs, many of which are considered impactful, Osamor pointed to aid-funded private health care financing initiatives, which exist despite the model being widely criticized when applied to domestic health care. The party plans to establish a centre for universal health coverage, which will make a global case for publicly-funded universal health care “based on the principles of the National Health Service.”
She called the decision to use PPPs in overseas aid the result of “ideological dogma of outsourcing at the first opportunity, and selling off public services on a grand scale,” she told Devex.
“Labour are saying we will do things differently: We should be using British taxpayer-funded aid money to strengthen public services in low-income countries, not weaken them.”
The policy paper commits to ending PPPs within the first five years of being elected. The next U.K. general election is not scheduled until 2022, but could happen sooner if agreed by parliament.
Discussing the strategy, Melissa Leach, director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, said she “welcomes the commitment to a dual approach of tackling rising inequalities and extreme poverty, and to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals both at home and abroad,” but pointed to a need for greater consideration of the role technology will play in the delivery of aid goals.
“We would argue that there needs to be more focus, across all parties, on the opportunities and risks that advancing digital technologies pose to all areas of development, particularly in relation to the future of work and governance, accountability, and citizen voice,” she said.
“We would also emphasise the need to invest in robust and contextually-grounded research to ensure that development policies have the best chance of tackling the world’s most pressing and complex global challenges.”
The strategy makes a number of key pledges alongside the attention to PPPs. Following the lead of the Swedish and Canadian governments, it commits to launching a “feminist development strategy” in the party’s first 100 days in office, planning to triple funding to grassroots women’s organizations “through a new funding mechanism” by the end of the first five years; increase efforts to disaggregate data based on gender to assess impact; and increase technical assistance to partner with governments committed to furthering gender equality.
Nonprofits are welcoming one Labour pledge in particular: The promise to restore within the first year in office a funding mechanism resembling the Planned Partnership Arrangements. PPAs, which DFID ended in 2016, provided flexible, nonprogrammatic funding to nonprofit DFID partners which served to fill some of the general budgetary gaps left by programmatic grants, namely administrative and overhead, as well as human resource costs.
At the launch of the strategy, Osamor lamented a lack of current funding for the “understanding of aid,” and criticized DFID’s communications strategy for pandering to media attention and failing to communicate a sophisticated case for aid. She said that, if elected, Labour would review that strategy with an eye toward doing “a better job than the Conservatives have done at showing the public a light at the end of the tunnel: That ODA, deployed alongside other pro-development government policies, can contribute to changing societies for the better, to the point that they become independent of it.”
Osamor also committed to reviewing “current DFID mandate and staffing,” arguing that DFID currently lacks enough staff to conduct adequate oversight of its delivery partners.
Osamor has been a vocal critic of the government’s commitment to spend 30 percent of official development assistance through departments other than DFID. While the Labour strategy echoes current calls for more coherence of aid spending across government — particularly favouring coordination under the banner of a rights-based foreign policy, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals — it also pledges to cap cross-government spending at 30 percent of ODA.
In addition, the strategy promises to replace the cross-government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund — which it notes has been criticized “for securitising aid and neglecting human rights” — with a more transparent “Peace Fund,” which will focus on conflict prevention.
Similarly, the party would “increase [the] proportion of humanitarian relief going to prevention rather than response, and to locally-led rather than internationally-led solutions,” according to the strategy.
While the sector widely welcomed Osamor’s call for the U.K. to catch up on the commitments it made to localize according to the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, the emphasis on prevention struck a more controversial note, raising the question of whether Osamor plans to repurpose humanitarian aid for prevention, or to raise it as a priority while maintaining humanitarian funding.
Defending the move, Osamor told Devex “humanitarian spending has increased substantially within DFID in recent years.”
“In government, we will make hard decisions about where to direct resources. We did that in our 2017 General Election manifesto which, unlike the Tories', was fully costed, and we will do it again in government.”
She added that Labour is “not ruling out other changes in how the U.K. spends ODA, but what we are saying today is that we think there needs to be a different balance between the resources going into preventing crises and responding to them. The evidence suggests a pound spent on prevention saves many pounds spent on response, and it's right that we respond to that.”