International development must prioritise people rather than profit if we’re to tackle global challenges
For this government, even abject human suffering is a time to think about lining your pockets, writes Dan Carden MP
The appointment of Alok Sharma as international development secretary means that, after just a few months in my shadow cabinet role, I’m facing my third incumbent of that office. He has jumped straight in by turbo-charging the Tory agenda of using UK aid to seek out new trade and investment opportunities for private profit, rather than genuine development.
In his first month in the job, Sharma visited Nigeria and Ethiopia to discuss what business opportunities exist for private sector investors and established a new commission of business leaders to support him in this agenda.
Sharma is clearly following in the footsteps of recent Tory predecessors who have all used their position to redirect UK aid spending away from the world’s poorest people and towards promoting opportunities for rich investors instead.
But his recent comments in a Telegraph interview, suggesting that even humanitarian crises could be used to open up trade opportunities, shows that he is prepared to go further in profiting from poverty.
Implementing his vision would undermine the very notion of humanitarianism. It would mean that provision of emergency support would no longer be based on need alone, but also profitability. This is not only a shameful abdication of responsibility by one of the world’s richest countries, it also demonstrates a shocking lack of compassion. For this government, even abject human suffering is a time to think about lining your pockets.
While my opposite number spent the summer recess meeting business leaders and exploring ways to profit from human misery, I went to Kenya to meet those on the frontline of the fightback against poverty, inequality and injustice.
In Dandora, on the edge of Nairobi, I met activists from the Fight Inequality Alliance. Despite foreign investments pouring into Nairobi, this wealth has clearly not trickled down to people in this slum area. While the community in Dandora pulls together to demand jobs and better services, any opportunities that arise from foreign investments continue to flow towards those already better-off.
On my journey, I also met teachers and union leaders who were angry with aid-donors supporting the privatisation of their school system, when what they want is a strong public education system available to all children. And I met farmers who struggle to compete for fair prices for their produce.
I spoke with many people who care about the same issues as my constituents in Liverpool – decent housing, quality education and access to good healthcare.
This is why, when Labour takes office, we will have an entirely new approach for the Department for International Development (DfID). The next Labour government will set up a dedicated unit for public services within DfID that will work in partnership with people and governments across the world to support the development of universal high-quality health, education and water services. Labour will also put an end to using aid to privatise basic services in the global south.
We know from our own experience here in the UK how public services are a force for greater equality, social justice and economic development. Building strong public services and putting people, rather than profit, first is at the heart of our agenda and is the only way that we will tackle the greatest challenges facing the world today.
Of course, trade has the potential to bring economic empowerment to the world’s poorest countries. But without addressing the rigged global economic system that is set up to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite, it can also do the opposite. It is a perverse world view that insists the fight against poverty and inequality is won by further empowering wealthy investors. Instead, Labour will focus on empowering people and communities to demand and deliver the change they need and the services they lack.
It will require courage and political will. It will mean taking on powerful vested interests. But it is the only way to truly build a world that works for the many, not the few.
Dan Carden is Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and shadow international development secretary
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