UK election manifesto commitments on international development and global health


It’s niche as far as general election issues go – but what do the election manifestos of the three main political parties say about international development and global health?  They are a bit thin, but here are a few notes, for those who need a tie-breaker that is more meaningful than the quality of leaders’ wives’ toes.

Big ideas:

·        Lib dems: Financial transaction tax; Global Fund for social protection.  “Meeting Britain’s obligations to the developing world”.

·        Labour: Debt cancellation; support to the most excluded and vulnerable; major investments in key areas of health; free access to education and healthcare.  “Our moral duty, our common interest”.

·        Tories: Transparency and accountability to the UK taxpayer; national security; wealth creation; strengthening Britain’s waning influence.  Malaria.  “Honouring our aid commitments”; “in the national interest”.  They will keep an independent DFID – which was not clear until now.

Development assistance, financing and debt:

·        All three parties commit to achieving the agreed UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2013, and of passing legislation to protect this level of spending.

·        All 3 parties endorse the Millennium Development Goals, to be achieved by 2015.

·        The Lib Dems and Labour both emphasise reform of global financial institutions – with the Lib Dems specifically mentioning the IMF and the World Bank and Labour additionally mentioning the UN, Commonwealth and NATO

·        The Lib Dems will introduce a financial transaction tax (something along the lines of the “Robin Hood” tax).  This is something Labour have advocated in the past but it isn’t mentioned in their manifesto, nor in the Tories’. 

·        Lib Dems say they will push for a “renewed international effort on debt”, supporting debt cancelation and measures against vulture funds buying developing country debt.  Labour also support debt cancelation and crack downs on vulture funds.  The Tories do not mention debt reduction but do mention trade deals such as a global trade deal and a Pan-African free trade area as the main poverty reduction approach.

·        The Lib Dems will support introduction of a Global Fund for social protection.

·        The Tories favour a “payment by results” approach for development organisations, and open information on all aid funded projects.  The Tories will stop supporting countries like Russia and China and will focus on Commonwealth countries.

·        Labour – development assistance targeting the poorest and most excluded.  Improvement of country tax systems, and “no enforced liberalisation of economies”.  In addition Labour commit that 5% of developing country budget support to be earmarked to strengthening the role of parliaments and civil society.

Health and other community development priorities

·        The Lib Dems talk about health and education, promotion of gender equality, reduction of maternal and infant mortality and restricting the spread of AIDS, TB and malaria.  They also single out clean water as a priority.

·        Labour provide some numbers for spending priorities – including £8.5bn on schooling over 8 years, and £6bn on health including £1bn each for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, water and sanitation and food security.  The single out the need to achieve Universal Access to HIV prevention and treatment by 2010, and the distribution of 30 million bed nets to prevent malaria over the next 3 years.  They also mention flagship initiatives on child hunger and the new UN women’s agency, as well as supporting the agenda of making health and education free at the point of delivery.

·        Tories clean water sanitation healthcare education; rights of women Tories specific commitment to spend £500m per year on malaria.  Other health themes mentioned include sanitation, healthcare, and access to services for women, children and disabled people.

And so?

·        Great news that all parties support achieving and sustaining the allocation of 0.7% of Gross National Income to development programmes by 2013, in line with UN commitments.  In theory this means that this will happen and be enshrined in national law, hopefully even if there is a hung parliament.

·        What seems to stand out is that the Lib Dems are the only party committing to finding additional funding for development assistance above and beyond 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2013, through the financial transaction tax.


·        Human rights and the principle of supporting poor countries to define their own development agendas don’t exactly leap out of any of the pages.

·        Labour are the party with most numbers behind their health commitments; having said this many of the figures they give are for a period beginning in 2008 so I can’t help wondering how much of their pledges include “new” money, and how much includes money that the other parties would be tied in to spending anyway.

·        Labour’s commitment to Universal Access for HIV prevention and treatment by 2010 is likely to be overtaken by events since most people in the know now accept these targets will not be met.  Does it mean however that Labour will continue to push for Universal Access, even though their tendency of late has been to pull back from HIV funding?

·        The fact that the Tories single out one disease – malaria – for a financial commitment is intriguing, especially as global health thinking moves toward a more integrated approach to healthcare development.

·        To the extent that there is any clear water between the two main parties, it is perhaps the Tories’ greater use of language on the “national interest”, and their insistence on increasing UK citizens’ ownership of aid programmes.  Labour’s pointed reference to “no enforced liberalisation of economies” may be an intended contrast to the Tories’ focus on trade agreements, but there’s not much to go on.  The devil is in the detail…


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