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International development at the Conservative Party Conference

This week Priti Patel, the new Secretary of State for International Development, set out her vision at the Conservative Party Conference. Natalie Lartey, Concern’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, analyses on what her words mean for the world’s poorest people.

This was the first conference as a minister for Priti Patel, who has been billed as one of Theresa May’s Brexit team. Her speech opened with confirmation that the government will continue to spend 0.7 per cent of the UK’s national income on aid.  She outlined her promise to the UK people; to reform, challenge and change the global aid system, making it work for the security and trade needs of the UK taxpayer.

New priorities

She promised reform would be achieved by following the money, people and outcomes involved in development work. Following the money to root out corruption, following the people to ensure only the deserving receive aid, and following the outcomes to ensure agencies spending government money deliver results before they are paid in full. It will be no surprise if she applies this rigour and reform to her priority issues first; child trafficking and child labour, reducing poverty to reduce terror attacks, and providing alternatives to poor people that come to the UK to escape poverty. Support for family planning and nutrition were also mentioned, but as slightly awkward additions to the new direction of travel. 

The speech closed with a new announcement of £750million to support the work of UK servicemen and women helping to build a long term and viable Afghan state in the face of Taliban agression.  Land mines will be cleared, people forced from their homes protected, children sent to school and healthcare improved.

Moral value of aid must not be forgotten

It sounds like some great work could be achieved under Priti Patel’s leadership, particularly as her commitment to value for money is something that is shared by the wider development sector. As an outspoken aid sceptic, it was no surprise that she implied development organisations work in an ineffective aid system that lacks transparency, something that we would refute. 

What struck me was the lack of reference to the moral case for aid, a point that was so central to the way David Cameron talked about the issue. In the minister’s view, poor people in developing countries seemed to be an irrelevance, their wellbeing a convenient by-product of a secure, prosperous and safe Britain. There was no sight of poverty eradication as a common good delivered by everyone for everyone. Does that matter? Only time will tell. But we think aid’s moral value should never be forgotten. Wilmise at her market stall - you can see how proud she is to be earning a living. Photo credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Haiti/2016

Silence over food crises was huge shame

So lastly, how was the conference for Concern? Well, this year we talked to politicians about child malnutrition, food crisis and climate shocks. While international development was well represented throughout the conference and its fringe discussions, political prioritisation of food crises was not. This was a huge shame, as the world currently faces 14 devastating food crises across Africa, the Caribbean and Asia – each caused by erratic global weather patterns linked to climate change.

So what did the Conservative Party Conference teach me? That we need to show how climate shocks, food crisis and child malnutrition are urgent and vital political issues. And that aid organisations should promote ending poverty as something good for everyone.  After Brexit, it’s important that the UK continues to be an outward facing nation. 

What role can you play? Here’s something easy to start with – sign our petition and ask Prime Minister Theresa May to make fighting global malnutrition a bigger priority