The last Labour Government established the Department for International Development because we believe Britain's values of tolerance, progress, solidarity and justice travel beyond our borders. It was Labour's leadership that tripled the aid budget, helped drop the debt, lifted three million people out of poverty every year, and put 40 million more children in school. Our financial power went hand in hand with international leadership. We shaped global opinion on aid spending as well as ensuring it forever improved the lives of the poor.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which we helped to shape, are a powerful force that focused minds and funding on reducing poverty. Progress over the past 15 years has been remarkable. But deprivation and inequality are still too high. And new risks - particularly from climate change - threaten millions with misery.
Work has begun on the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) which will replace the MDGs in 2015. Sadly, David Cameron’s government lacks the vision, values and courage to ensure these new goals are radical enough to eradicate poverty. This is not surprising from an increasingly isolationist, anti-internationalist climate-sceptic party who, with a few honourable exceptions, view Europe and the world beyond, as alien.
I am delighted that Ed Miliband has asked me to lead Labour's international development work at this important time. Since I travelled to Sierra Leone and Guinea in 1990, I have been passionate about international development. There, I saw the devastating impact of conflict and the innumerable challenges faced by people living in failed states.
The Labour Party has been clear that the SDGs must be bold and focus on inequality. Tomorrow, I am convening a meeting with progressive political leaders from across Europe to ensure that this historic opportunity is not wasted. We will focus on ensuring the SDGs prioritise access to healthcare, decent work and tackling climate change.
Universal healthcare is vital. As Chair of the All Party Group on genocide prevention, I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. There, I saw the medical treatment provided by Dr Denis Mukwege, repairing the bodies of women and girls who had suffered unimaginable sexual torture. Lack of basic health coverage in west Africa allowed Ebola to spread unchecked for many months before global action was taken. And it is deeply unfair that three million people die every year from vaccine preventable illnesses. Labour will demand that universal healthcare is at the heart of the SDG settlement.
Climate change hits the poorest people the hardest. The poor live in areas that are most affected, and they lack the resilience to cope with drought, flood and food insecurity. Ambitious action on climate change must feature in the 2015 deal. In 2012, as shadow Defra Secretary, I visited South Sudan and saw the fragility of that country’s food supply. If temperature changes lead to reduced access to fresh water for farming, hunger will return and the development gains of the last 30 years will be put at risk.
Work in developing countries is often in the so-called grey economy. Everyone deserves to have a decent job which provides a permanent route out of poverty. More formal employment would also better ensure workers rights to avoid exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous companies which force them to work for minimal pay in dangerous conditions.
Those who work in developing countries often work in ill defined jobs in the so-called grey economy. Everyone deserves to have access to decent and productive jobs which can provide a permanent route out of poverty. More formal employment would also better ensure workers rights and avoid exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous companies.
I also want to stop clothing made by people working in horrendous conditions from reaching our markets. A Labour government will demand action from major companies to stamp out this evil trade from their supply chains. We will reverse this government’s decision to withdraw funding from the International Labour Organisation and we will work the International Trade Union Confederation to ensure that those who want to work hard, can get on.
Labour would take other nations with us. We would provide much needed global leadership to ensure a bold set of SDGs are agreed by the United Nations next year. We would work constructively with our European and US partners.
The challenges faced by the world’s poor can only be tackled by a Labour party that is both internationalist and pro-reform. With six months until the general election, the stakes could not be higher. I believe in the power of politics and political leadership to drive change. In my new post, I make no apologies for Labour’s unwavering commitment to development.
Mary Creagh is shadow Secretary of State for International Development
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