October 20, 2023

Shaping overseas development to eradicate poverty: insights from our side event at the Labour Party Conference

A side event titled ‘Eradicating Global Poverty’ was hosted by BRAC, BOND and the Labour Foreign Policy Group at the Labour Party’s 2023 Annual Conference in Liverpool. The event discussed what the UK’s international development policy would look like under a Labour government.

The opening address was delivered by leading economist Stefan Dercon, who described the progress made: since the 1990s global poverty has more than halved. He emphasised that this achievement was primarily propelled by inclusive economic growth, dispelling the misconception that aid alone was responsible for such strides. Citing Bangladesh and the role of BRAC, he highlighted how this organisation accelerated the inclusion of impoverished populations. Despite this significant progress, the challenge of extreme poverty persists, affecting more than 700 million individuals. He went on to say that development endeavours are growing increasingly complex, owing to factors such as climate change.

In her keynote address, Lisa Nandy, Shadow Minister for International Development, underscored the Labour Party’s unwavering commitment to international development. Lisa Nandy articulated the need for the UK to be a partner rather than a leader in international development. She also recognised the potential for the UK to reshape the global financial system, stating “We want to leverage our strength in finance and banking to tap into funding for middle income countries so we can focus more of UK aid on poorer countries.” While a specific commitment to achieving the 0.7% aid target was not made during the event, she affirmed the party’s determination to reinvigorate development efforts, with a focus on empowering women and girls.

Lisa Nandy’s speech was followed by a panel discussion featuring Asif Saleh, Executive Director at BRAC, Jess Toale, Founder of the Labour Foreign Policy Group, Sandra Martinsone, Policy Manager at BOND, Lord Jack McConnell, Member of the House of Lords and Chair of BRAC’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on extreme poverty and Gideon Rabinowitz, Director of Policy and Advocacy at BOND. 

During the discussion, Sandra Martinsone commented that trade and investment policy must actively promote the development agenda, urging developed countries to consider the true cost of their consumption to the global south. She then went on to say that  the Labour Party going forward will have to be more explicit about its trade strategy, ensuring it empowers those in poverty. Lord Jack McConnell asserted that development cannot prosper where there is conflict and extreme violence, urging governments to tackle this issue through foreign policy. He also expressed that Labour’s foreign and development policy was showing more clarity, enthusiasm and passion than it had for a long time. Jess Toale stated the need for decentralised, decolonised, and de-carbonised development policy. She highlighted the importance of localisation and the need to incentivise and support small and medium-sized enterprises to grow local economies.

Furthermore, Asif Saleh stated the importance of the UK investing partnership and trust in local organisations that have been successful at implementing development, with BRAC being an exemplary example. Reflecting on this, he commented, “There is a big difference between development and charity. Development is more from an equality viewpoint. Everyone can achieve their potential if they have the opportunity and the tools.”

Gideon Rabinowitz, who moderated the event, stated that Labour needed to commit to report  spending relevant to development as overseas aid, citing the example of when domestic refugee costs were included in the aid budget.