Two government departments have been apparently spared from the Government’s ruthless programme of cuts. They are of course the Department for Health and the Department for International Development. You could be forgiven for thinking that maintaining Labour’s high level of funding would protect these two vital areas from reductions in the scope of their services. Think again.
Today, as David Taylor at Left Foot Forward reports, DfID has recommended canceling near to 100 commitments, including plans to double support to global education and to spend an extra £6 billion on health systems and services. These are obviously not mere trifles or insignificant amounts.
Of particular interest to co-operators will be the proposed cut to the support for fair and ethical trade. Labour had planned to quadruple this budget, widely welcomed by the Fairtrade movement and meaning a great deal of support for producer co-operatives in developing countries. Also dropped are a commitment to support fair and ethical trade through public procurement and support for microfinance.
There are two possible reasons for these cancellations; either overall funding is being cut after all, or the DfID cake is being divided up differently. Either way, a vast amount of money that was previously promised to some of the most impoverished people in the world will now not reach them.
Naturally enough, a new Ministerial team will have a slightly different approach to any given policy area. DfID is not immune from this. But some of the commitments that are being dropped are startling to say the least; is it suddenly not worth our while to “Allocate at least 50% of all new bilateral aid to fragile and conflict affected countries” or “support new water resource management programmes in 5 developing countries”? Whatever the overriding purpose, be it a change in emphasis or an ideological decision, the effect is to remove help from those who need it most.
The Coalition’s short record already stands in stark contrast to Labour’s. In 1996, there wasn’t a Department for International Development or Secretary of State. It is now the top-rated aid-giving organization in the world. It has saved and improved hundreds of thousands of lives, through providing access to life-saving drugs and clean drinking water. It has also invested in infrastructure and helped to foster independent private sector growth.
It has also done a great deal for the Co-operative movement in the developing world. The final Labour Minister of State at DfID was Gareth Thomas MP, Chair of our Party. As a Minister, Gareth supported and funded projects such as the CoopAfrica programme, which campaigns for a more hospitable climate for Co-ops in Africa. Labour’s DfID also did great things in fostering links between co-operatives worldwide, and recognizing their vast importance to the global economy.
The outgoing government made great progress in promoting fair trade, and campaigned internationally for a an end to trade distorting subsidies and tariffs which stop developing countries selling their goods at a fair price. Labour and Co-operative figures have always seen the importance of fair trade and Fairtrade goods in lifting people out of poverty, and the previous Labour Government pledged to quadruple support to fair and ethical trade through DfID. Almost inevitably, this in on today’s list of dropped commitments. In under a fortnight, the Tory-led coalition has dropped its support for re-mutualising Northern Rock and the funding for community-owned co-operative pubs. The Fairtrade movement is the next victim in the ConDem’s ongoing betrayal of co-ops.
This list places an enormous question mark next to the Coalition’s credibility on international development issues.
Following Michael Gove’s precedent, we can safely assume that a further four lists will be issued before we get a true idea of what is actually being cancelled. But if the final version looks anything like the current one, then this could be very bad news indeed for the people who rely on DfID’s support for food, medication, shelter and clean water.