What #UKelection2015 means for #globaldev

The iconic black door of No. 10 Downing St. in London. With only eight days to the U.K. general election, what are the major parties’ manifesto pledges for international development? Photo by: Number 10 / CC BY

There are only eight days left until the British people vote for their new government. While the economy and immigration dominate daily news headlines in the nation, Devex has delved into major parties’ manifestos to find out what each pledges for international development.

Here we present our definitive election guide.

The Conservative Party

‘Tackling global challenges to make you safer and more prosperous’

Conservative secretaries of state have headed the U.K. Department for International Development since the party, currently in government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, came into power in 2010. In that time it has overseen significant policy decisions, such as the passing of a bill that enshrines in law Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its gross national income on aid every year. The party manifesto opens its section on global development by stating it will uphold this pledge.

Another achievement often quoted by development secretary Justine Greening is the 2014 London Girl Summit, co-hosted with UNICEF, which aimed to mobilize global efforts against female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage. Maintaining a focus on promoting girls’ education, property rights, tackling violence against women and girls, ending FGM and CEFM will continue to be a DfID priority if the party can retain power.

DfID to increase trade role in future — Greening

While trade is likely to gain more prominence within the U.K. aid agency, DfID would maintain its independence “whatever happens” in the May 7 general election, international development secretary Justine Greening stressed in this Devex exclusive.

Minister of State for International Development Desmond Swayne told Devex the most significant reform the Conservatives will introduce is to “continue to put women and girls at the heart of everything we do. Development cannot occur if half the population [is] excluded,” he said. “We have already helped more than 5 million girls go to school, enabled 7.9 million women to use modern family planning methods and secured land and property rights for 2.4 million women. The U.K. has the largest fund combating FGM in the world.”

Saving lives by eliminating infectious diseases is another election promise. The Conservative party says it will “lead a major new global program to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs.” Swayne gave Devex more details about the proposals, which will see DfID working “with international partners to first understand the current market barriers that exist to [vaccines and drugs] being developed.”

“It may not be cost-effective for pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines for diseases primarily impacting poor countries. Then we will develop new solutions,” he explained.

Swayne said this strategy followed lessons learned following DfID’s response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak.

Time to recognize private sector role in UK aid

As imperfect a partnership as private and public aid might be, there is currently no single significant development project in the world that does not consult and work with private investors. Nirj Deva, a Conservative member of the European Parliament, weighs in on the #FutureofDfID.

“It has been striking how quickly we have been able to catalyze the development of potential Ebola vaccines in a moment of crisis,” Swayne said. “But why wait for a crisis? If there are reasons why potential vaccines exist but are not being developed or brought to market then we should address those now.”

The Conservatives’ manifesto also contains details about future funding for development implementers. In June 2014 DfID set out a payments-by-results strategy, which pays nongovernmental organizations and other aid-delivery organizations after they have shown proven results. The party wants to expand this system to be a “major part of the way our aid works,” said Swayne.

“PBR will help us to make our development budget go much further, bring more people out of poverty for good and ensure we are getting the greatest value for money on behalf of the British taxpayer,” he added.

Another change will be to double the amount of funding DfID awards through its Aid Match scheme. Under this model, the department matches pound-for-pound the donations U.K.-based charities raise through public appeals. Currently worth 120 million pounds ($184.67 million) over three years, the Conservatives want to raise DfID’s contributions to at least 80 million pounds a year.

“This is giving the U.K. public a greater say over where their aid is spent,” Swayne said. He did not comment however on whether these plans would replace other current forms of funding.

The manifesto also pledges to triple the British government’s youth voluntary scheme — the International Citizen Service.

The Liberal Democrats

‘Eliminate absolute poverty by 2030’

While currently in government in coalition with the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrat members of Parliament who are taking top positions at DfID include current parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development Baroness Northover and her predecessor Lynne Featherstone. The latter became a prominent campaigner against FGM before she was moved to a different government department in November last year. The 0.7 percent bill was also tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore.

The party’s manifesto summarizes its successes while in office, listing work against rape as a weapon of war, fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone and investing in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Martin Horwood, the party’s general election spokesman for international affairs, told Devex fighting infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria would be the most significant reform his party would introduce in power.

“A future Lib Dem-led government will develop new ways of overcoming this commercial market failure through an ambitious policy to develop a new global model for funding research and development, specifically aimed at tackling the world’s deadliest diseases,” he said. “Our challenge is to make interventions that unlock the ingenuity of the best minds of the public and private sectors to develop new drugs, tests and vaccines.”

The top pledge within the party’s document is to develop a whole-of-government approach to development. Horwood provided more details on this plan, which aims to ensure all government departments dealing with any form of international policy must assess the impact of those policies on development. He said the amount of medical staff the U.K. recruits to work in its National Health Service from developing countries was an example of where disconnected government policies could harm other nations.

As long as there's extreme poverty, there's a need for DfID

DfID’s work doesn’t just have a global scope, it cuts across all U.K departments and development sectors as well. And unless extreme poverty is eradicated, there will continue to be a need for the U.K. aid agency, Baroness Northover, parliamentary undersecretary of state for international development, argues for the #FutureofDfID.

“There have been criticisms that a concerted effort to hire doctors from abroad to the NHS has led to shortfall in doctors in developing countries,” he described. “This criticism is especially poignant in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak, as Sierra Leone has only one physician per 50,000 people.”

Horwood added that the development impact of such policies would be considered and assessed in future, to see if they need to be changed or if mitigating measures can be introduced to minimize the negative impact.

“This approach would be applied across departments,” he continued, “and I suspect the biggest impact would be seen within trade, climate change and energy policies.”

The party also pledges to create a new civil society partnership scheme, which it says will build links between peoples in rich and poor countries, including partnerships between communities, trade unions and emergency services. Horwood explained that DfID has already supported such initiatives in education, but the Liberal Democrats want to extend the model to other sectors such as health.

“This policy is underpinned by a belief that development is not just about economic growth and material well-being, but about strengthening institutions and civil society in order to redress their human and institutional capacity which is often left floundering,” he said.

“If you consider that Africa has around 35 scientists and engineers for every million inhabitants, whereas in Europe we have 2,500 and in the U.S. over 4,000, you can start to understand the imbalance there is between developed and developing countries in regards to this capacity,” he continued. “These new civil society partnerships will help begin to rebalance this situation through mutual exchanges of best practice across sectors.”

If elected, the Liberal Democrats also want to continue DfID’s focus on promoting private sector economic development and ensuring global companies pay fair taxes in developing countries. The party also plans to conduct a bilateral and multilateral aid review of DfID’s work.

The Labour Party

‘An internationalist party’

In its chapter on Britain’s interests in Europe and the world, the Labour Party manifesto accuses the Conservatives of “damaging the interests of our country by turning their backs on Europe, and isolating us abroad.” The main opposition party states one of its first acts in government will be to conduct “a wide-ranging review of Britain’s place in the world and how we can best uphold our values and the national interest.”

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Mary Creagh told Devex Labour has three core aims for the next parliament. These are to increase and maintain DfID’s focus on fragile and conflict-affected states; ensure the global development agenda prioritizes inequality, specifically access to health care, human rights and climate change; and work with businesses “to help them make the right choices to treat workers with respect, maintain sustainable supply chains and pay taxes where they operate.”

The party plans to improve global access to free health care by creating a Center for Universal Health Coverage. Based on the party’s experience of creating the U.K. NHS, Creagh said the final shape and governance plans of the center were still undecided.

“We want to consult widely before announcing our final plan,” she said. “The best way to protect against disease is to build a resilient, government-controlled and government-funded health service. Our center will provide global partnerships, technical support and funding to countries that want to provide free health care.”

Creagh added that a Labour-led DfID would support international governments to generate funding from their own tax systems to enable them to provide basic public goods, such as health, education and justice.

Labour MP: DfID has 'lost its way' under Cameron

The U.K.’s Labour Party has bold plans to bring DfID back on track, according to Member of Parliament Mary Creagh, shadow secretary of state for international development. She lays them out in this opinion piece for the #FutureofDfID series.

“Labour will substantially increase the funding for Britain’s support to such interventions,” she indicated.

One way Labour plans to improve human rights is by appointing a global envoy for religious freedom and establishing a multifaith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Labour leader Ed Miliband last year also announced former member of the European Parliament Lord Michael Cashman would become an international LGBT rights envoy to promote worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

Like the other parties, Labour pledges an increased future focus on women and children.

“The Tory-led government has been criticized for failing to protect children from violence and to ensure children remain at school in safety,” Creagh said. “We will take a cross-government approach to prevent genocide and mass atrocity, focusing on early warning and prevention. We want to ensure that children affected by conflict have the psychosocial services they need and the right to go to school.”

Creagh added that Labour would review the government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund — a 1 billion pound pot of money introduced in April 2015 that the U.K. National Security Council invests in peace and stability activities in conflict-affected states.

At an April 26 global development election event in London, Miliband also pushed another of Labour’s key promises on global priorities — climate change.

“Nothing matters more to the generation that is just growing up than protecting our environment,” he said, promising a Labour government would lead by example and become one of the first in the world to take carbon out of electricity by 2030. He said this plan would “make it possible for the world’s poorest countries to grow in a sustainable way.”

The UK Independence Party

‘UKIP wants to help lift people out of poverty through trade, not aid’

UKIP plans to scrap DfID and merge its “essential functions” with the FCO, while retaining a single minister for overseas development. It plans to introduce new commissioning policies that favor British providers over those outside of the U.K.

“DfID has already shown itself to be wasteful and lacking in focus on aid outcomes, yet its budget has been protected from recent government cuts,” states UKIP’s manifesto. “We see no reason to keep DfID running as an independent government department.”

The party is also campaigning strongly on a pledge to repeal the legislation that committed U.K. foreign aid to spending 0.7 percent of its GNI overseas. Its manifesto argues: “The money spent on overseas aid is not well-directed or controlled and that much is wasted, lost to corruption or handed to countries already wealthy enough to have their own space programs, nuclear weapons and even overseas aid programs of their own.”

Instead, it plans to bring spending to 0.2 percent of GNI, which it says will be directed toward “emergency relief, health care, inoculation against preventable diseases and clean water and sanitation programs.”

UKIP plans to spend a proportion of the money saved through this approach on increasing defense spending by 3 billion pounds. However, speaking to Devex earlier in April, Greening said the plans were flawed because DfID was increasingly working in partnership with the Ministry of Defense.

“It’s not quite so easy to say that’s a pound for MoD and that’s a pound for DfID, because of course it’s the MoD doing work on behalf of DfID in lots of different parts of the world,” the international development secretary described.

She said if UKIP was able to pursue its approach, work DfID is doing to develop countries’ economies would be lost.

“If we want to have buoyant export markets you need to be in them early not coming to them late. Being in them early is what DfID does,” she added.

A roundup of the rest

The Green Party

The Green Party manifesto includes many similar pledges to other parties, such as committing to ending AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, tackling violence against women and girls, and taking action against tax evasion.

DfID's importance 'shouldn’t be understated'

DfID has the resources, ability and expertise to help bring about a world that is more equal, Jean Lambert, a Green Party MEP and vice president of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament, argues for the #FutureofDfID series.

In addition, the party wants to promote fair trade in line with International Labor Organization standards. It would also investigate potential for creating a global minimum wage to counter in-work poverty and exploitation.

Unlike any of the other parties, the Greens would increase the overseas aid budget from the 0.7 percent commitment to 1 percent of GNI.

The Scottish National Party

International development is not a devolved issue so Scotland has no independent say on how DfID money is spent. However, with this party predicted to increase its number of members of Parliament, it could have more of an influence over global policy decisions in the future.

The party’s manifesto states it supports the 0.7 percent target and believes overseas aid funding should not be used for “defense-related expenditure.” It also expresses a desire to conduct an audit of outstanding debt owed by developing countries “with debt relief provided as appropriate.” The party has also made a similar pledge to Labour, with plans to create an international special envoy on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights.

Plaid Cymru

As in Scotland, the Welsh government has no devolved powers over U.K. global development policy. However its manifesto states a commitment to the 0.7 percent aid spending target and to preventing modern slavery, FGM, cybercrime and “other serious cross-national crimes.”

The party also pledges to “provide humanitarian aid to the best of our ability whenever required and accept displaced persons and refugees where possible and appropriate.”

The Democratic Unionist Party

Northern Ireland has the same political standing in relation to global development decisions as Scotland and Wales. There is little detail in the DUP manifesto about its plans in this sector.

The party pledges to tackle persecution of religious minorities and will “continue to use our influence to ensure that this issue is taken seriously and that the FCO actively engage with the leadership of the countries in which these human rights violations occur.” The document does not mention DfID.

Stay tuned for more U.K. election coverage and news, views and analysis on how this impacts DfID and U.K. aid in the coming weeks. To explore additional content, visit the Future of DfID series site, follow us on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDfID.

About the author

  • Gabriella jozwiak profile

    Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.