You can’t beat inequality and poverty without peace

Last week the Labour Party launched its new international development policy, 'A World For the Many, Not the Few'. The green paper elaborates on commitments made in Labour’s policy manifesto, which amongst other things included an increased commitment to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

International Alert welcomes this renewed commitment, which is very much in line with our submission to the Labour Party Taskforce on International Development that authored this paper.

Overall, the paper sets out a positive vision. Its centrepiece, a substantially increased commitment to address inequality, pairs well with Labour’s broader conflict prevention agenda. Labour includes preventing conflict amongst its five priorities for UK aid, which is a most welcome commitment.

It also matches its aspirations with necessary resources showing the seriousness of their commitment.

But the challenge is always in the execution, and Labour’s green paper is weaker when it comes to articulating how UK aid as a whole can promote peace and sustain the gains of poverty reduction and inequality interventions.

This has significant implications for the effectiveness and sustainability of the Department for International Development (DFID)’s interventions on poverty and inequality in fragile and conflict-affected countries and is especially significant given more than half of DFID’s budget is spent in such countries.

Strategic settings

Labour’s landmark commitment in the paper is to add a second objective – addressing inequality – to the aid programme’s current objective – eradicating poverty. This is the first change of its type since DFID’s inception.

Conflict and inequality are intimately interlinked. Economic and political exclusion are key drivers of conflict in many conflict-affected countries. An exclusive poverty focus has often obscured the need to address the root causes of conflict, in turn undermining the sustainability of aid interventions in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

But we need to avoid the assumption that if you reduce poverty and inequality you will increase peace and prevent conflict. This view has now been debunked by the UN and World Bank in their joint 2018 Pathways for peace report. Development assistance will only increase peace where it is deliberately tailored to do so. Therefore this, and the need to address the root causes of violence, should remain the starting point for deciding priorities in conflict-affected countries.

Consistent with its manifesto Labour includes preventing conflict amongst its five priorities for UK aid. It makes a commitment, within the framework of a wider ‘ethical foreign policy’ to ‘shift from reactive crisis management to coherent, effective and sustainable peacebuilding and conflict prevention’.

The paper positively spells out a role for DFID in cross-government policy-making including in national security policy, but it misses a reference to the commitment Labour made in its manifesto to develop a plan for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. This leaves a critical gap in policy that unites aid, diplomacy and defence efforts to address conflict.

Resources

In terms of resources to match its commitments, the picture proposed by the paper is very positive and could have a significant impact if it remains focused on addressing root causes of conflict under a multi-year framework.

It commits to increase funding for crisis prevention, something long awaited and necessary to achieve Labour’s agenda related to addressing structural inequalities and drivers of conflict.

The paper also commits to replacing the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) with a peace fund. Should this fund prioritise activities that address the root causes of conflict at current funding levels (£1 billion), this could place the UK as a global leader in conflict prevention.

The US congress is currently pursuing a similar approach with the Global Violence Reduction Act introduced to Congress in March. It compels the US government to develop a strategy for dealing with the root causes of conflict, with accompanying efforts in ten countries over ten years. Two take-aways for Labour are the need to have an overarching strategy for conflict prevention as well as committing to long-term, evidence-informed funding. Enshrining this mechanism in legislation would begin to create a genuine peace agenda for the UK and increase its transparency and impact.

The commitments made to DFID staffing are particularly welcome. To work effectively in fragile contexts DFID needs more people on the ground with the right skills to manage conflict prevention and resolution programmes.

Effectiveness and sustainability

Despite positive commitments at the strategic and resources levels, the paper struggles to articulate how the aid programme will contribute to peace overall.

With more than 50% of the world’s poor living in fragile and conflict-affected countries and over half of DFID’s budget (around £4.5 billion) currently being spent in such contexts, UK aid will struggle to have a sustainable impact on poverty and inequality unless it also delivers for peace.

Labour should apply a conflict sensitive approach, which means ‘doing no harm’ (which it already includes in the paper) but also ensuring programmes, whether health, education, livelihoods or infrastructure in conflict contexts are designed to also contribute to peace. Sweden and the Netherlands have already committed to this approach.

Labour’s inequality lens lends itself to the conflict sensitive approach, and can help ensure that peace is integrated across the implementation of the SDGs.

Overall, there is a lot to like about Labour’s vision. The real test, and whether it will indeed differentiate itself from the current government, will be whether it can move beyond strategic policy settings to operationalise its commitments in a way that truly has an impact on the economic and political inequalities that are driving contemporary conflict.

You can download our full review of the green paper here.