The global goals must form a key part of the agenda to tackle poverty in the UK
Development is not just something done to people and countries 'over there'. We must work to address people's needs in the UK as well as across the world, writes Preet Gill MP
The sustainable development – or global – goals are incredibly ambitious and set out how we want the world to look by 2030.
By addressing poverty and inequality in all its forms the UK, along with 192 other UN member states, has signed up to a programme that not only aids the poorest and most vulnerable internationally and domestically to live a better life, but makes society fairer and goes some way to giving everyone a greater chance to achieve their potential.
Three years on from signing up and the government has failed to live up to its promise of working “tirelessly for the full implementation of the agenda by 2030” in the UK. Instead there is a real danger that those most likely to benefit from the goals are being actively ignored and overlooked, going firmly against a central commitment to ensure no one is left behind.
We have frequently been instructed over the past two years by members of this government that leaving the EU is an opportunity, but there has been little substantive detail to show what that actually means.
Determining the position of the UK in the world outside of the EU cannot rely on faint and vague platitudes, it needs strong and committed action. A renewed and resolute commitment to achieving the global goals at home and abroad is a perfect opportunity to set out a strong position of what the UK stands for.
The UK cannot be a frontrunner in addressing poverty, gender inequality, food insecurity and climate change domestically without significant changes – including policies and legislation which prioritise vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Of the 143 targets relevant to the UK, UKSSD found that the UK is performing well on less than a quarter; 72% of targets have gaps or no policy coverage, or performance is not adequate or poor.
Food insecurity in the UK is one of the worst in Europe with increased food bank use across the whole country a vivid reminder of the government’s failure to tackle the impact of poverty on families.
Meanwhile, pensioner and child poverty is increasing rather than decreasing, leaving the UK unlikely to succeed in achieving goal 1.2 to reduce by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty.
Women are still paid less than men for equivalent work and spend more time doing unrecognised, unpaid domestic and caring work.
The austerity measures applied by the coalition government and continued today have weakened the social infrastructure necessary to continue progress towards gender equality (goal 5) in the economy – the cumulative impact falling disproportionally on women, particularly those who are on low incomes, single parents or BAME.
In answers to parliamentary questions as well as select committee reports, we know that responsibility for the delivery of the goals is abdicated to individual departments who may or may not have policies and programmes to help achieve different goals.
Even when they do have policies to try and pursue the delivery of a particular goal, the specifics are vague and the measurable outcomes in the single departmental plans are so broad as to be meaningless.
To make matters worse, when they do have policies, it is the departments themselves who are responsible for tracking their own progress with seemingly very little oversight.
Taking measures to promote and pursue these goals as part of a domestic agenda, as well as facilitating the political and technical skills required to achieve cross-governmental and inter-departmental workings, will not happen overnight. It requires work and a clear direction to see how we can use the SDGs as part of the programme and strategy for governing, rather than an add-on or afterthought. If used properly, the goals can influence and guide policy at local and national levels to deliver social justice.
Rather than working on the assumption that development is something done to people and countries ‘over there’, or that supporting people somewhere is a zero-sum game which diminishes the support for people somewhere else, we must work to address people’s needs in the UK and across the world.
The global goals must form a key part of the agenda for this country to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change internationally, nationally and locally.
Preet Gill is Labour MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston and shadow minister for international development