The main issue absorbing minds in the international development world at the moment is what to do when the timetable for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) runs out in 2015. David Cameron is the co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel exploring the post-2015 agenda, but there are a plethora of bodies examining the question, and any number of proposals for goals to replace the current eight.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is urging two new goals above all: decent work and social protection as key ways to address economic inequality – a call Save the Children have also made recently. Everyone has their own pet proposal, but it is significant that the ITUC and Save proposals address systemic causes of poverty, and both eschew the ‘loser takes it all’ approach of focusing on the poorest of the poor which bedevilled DFID under Clare Short. We should be tackling the causes of poverty, not the symptoms, and that means addressing poverty in middle income countries like India (I’m going to blog later on the vexed question of whether that means providing overseas aid to a country with its own space programme…) where there are more poor people than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the reasons why people are turning to more systemic goals is an analysis of the impact of the MDGs. Despite a lot of scepticism, the eight goals adopted by the UN for 2015 have dominated international development agendas for over a decade. Significant progress has been made towards many of the goals, although countries have progressed at very different speeds. And the overseas aid needed to deliver the goals has not been delivered, even though enormous effort has been expended arguing about the UN target for developed countries to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid (and there’s still more argument to come!)
There is always a question about how to assess goal-setting strategies. If they all get met, that may simply suggest they were too easy, so the failure to achieve all the MDG goals is no reason to decry the whole exercise as a waste of time (and some of the shortfalls result from the global financial crisis of the last couple of years, demonstrating that any strategy can be blown off course if the context changes.) But the fact that MDG 1B (decent work) is perhaps the objective furthest from being met is a good reason for giving it greater prominence post-2015.
The TUC has been arguing for years that economic inequality is a key issue for both developed and developing economies. The growth of such inequality in Europe and the USA at least contributed the (I’d identify it as the main cause of) the global financial crisis, and only tackling that inequality will create the sustainable growth we – and developing countries – need. Putting the three together, as the ITUC argue, is crucial – greater economic equality will require both decent work and social protection.
It would be nice to think that David Cameron could be persuaded of this, in his role as co-chair of the UN panel. He has recently emphasised the role that jobs need to play in global growth strategies, but his domestic agenda on austerity and benefit cuts doesn’t bode well for converting him to the merits of social protection (although DFID is more positive about the idea in other countries than DWP is in Britain…)