Cameron's values will impede UN progress

Why Cameron's conservatism will get in the way of the UN millenium development goals.

Yesterday saw the news that Ban Ki Moon has asked David Cameron to chair a new UN committee tasked with establishing a new set of UN millennium development goals when the current ones expire in 2015.

Britain will have the opportunity to maintain the global leadership on international development that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown provided summit after summit during Labour’s time in government. It would be churlish not to welcome that – but I fear Cameron’s conservative values will get in the way of the progressive solutions needed to meet the development outcomes we all want to see. Here’s five reasons why.

First, perhaps in anticipation of a backbench backlash, a government source was rushing to deride the current goal’s focus on basic education and health indicators. “What about new goals to give people property rights or economic rights?” said the source. There is much value in debating the key role economic development plays in lifting people out of poverty, so long as that is not a euphemism for advocating the failed neo-liberal economics of the past. I can send them a copy of Stiglitz’s Globalisation and Its Discontents if they like – detailing the devastation caused by the IMF’s structural adjustment policies and how trickle-down economics doesn’t work – but it would be tiring if we had to cover that ground again. Thankfully, the rest of the world has already moved on. The G20 has replaced the "Washington Consensus" with the "Seoul Consensus" which recognises the importance of both the market and an active state in ensuring sustainable economic growth.

Second, those remarks present a false choice – economic development and advancements in health and education are not mutually exclusive. China’s achievement in lifting 700 million people out of poverty came not only through the economic reforms they made in the 1980’s but the huge investment in human capital made throughout the 1970’s. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of achieving health and education goals on economic growth - tackling malnutrition could add 4.7 per cent to global GDP, low infant mortality rates can add 3.4 per cent to a country’s growth, whilst improved education can add 2 per cent to growth.

Third, this apparent ignorance masks a bigger problem – they just can’t bring themselves to back public services, despite the essential role they play in delivering health and education outcomes. They refused to back public services over private provision in their green paper on development and are making plans to roll out a voucher scheme in Kenya that subsidies private schools. India is currently drawing up plans to universal health coverage modelled on our own NHS, and yet this government is doing nothing to help them. Elsewhere the UK is halving our funding to budget sector support – the very aid that helps countries build their own health and education systems by giving them the funds required to recruit and retain teachers, doctors and nurses. Around the world more and more countries have put themselves on the path towards universal health coverage – any new development goals that do not prioritise strong public services will be out of touch with this emerging consensus.

Fourth, key to funding strong public services is of course strong tax revenues. To their credit DFID are supporting over twenty countries to develop the capacity of their tax administrations to increase tax collection. But that is undermined by Osborne’s watering down of the UK’s anti-tax haven rules in last month’s budget. The OECD estimates poor countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year as multinationals shift profits made in the former to the latter, and ActionAid estimate that these new rules will cost poor countries £4bn a year. How can Britain have the moral authority to draw up new development targets when we allow our own companies to deprive countries of the money they need to meet them?

Finally, there is growing recognition that any new goals must explicitly target inequality. Whilst the goal to halve proportion of people on less than $1 a day is likely to be met – a laudable success largely down to the China and India economic success – a "new bottom billion" are at risk of being left behind. On current trends it will take more than 800 years for that bottom billion to achieve 10 per cent of global income, and a Unicef study shows that only a third of the countries that have reduced national rates of child mortality have succeeded in reducing the gap between mortality rates in the richest and poorest households. It is no coincidence that the country that has made the most impressive strides towards reducing inequality in recent years – Brazil – is governed by a social democratic party that has rolled out an ambitious social protection program, Bolsa Familia, that has cut poverty in half. Given inequality rose so dramatically during the Thatcher years, and given last month’s ‘millionaires budget’ that saw pensioners take a £3.5 bn hit, can we really believe Cameron will put equity at the heart of the new goals?

Given the world's likely failure to meet many (if any) of the current MDGs, the next set of goals could hardly be more important. They must not be rendered obsolete from the start by clumsy right-wing dogma.

David Taylor is chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

David Cameron, Getty images.

David Taylor is chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.

Cate Gillon/Getty Images
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Why Britain’s Bangladeshis are so successful

In an age of fear about immigration, the success of the Bangladeshi population in Britain has a deeper resonance.

No day is complete without fears about immigrants failing to integrate in Britain. Romanians, Bulgarians and Syrians are among the ethnic groups now seen to be a burden on society, poorly educated and with few in good jobs, if in work at all.

A generation ago, much the same was said of the Bangladeshi community. Tower Hamlets, where the concentration of Bangladeshis is greatest, was the worst performing local authority in England until 1998. Until 2009, British Bangladeshis in England performed worse than the national average.

Today the Bangladeshi population is thriving: 62 per cent got five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, in 2015, five per cent above the average. The improvement among the poorest Bangladeshis has been particular spectacular: the results of Bangladeshis on Free School Meals (FSM) improved more than any other ethnic group on FSMs in the last decade, according to analysis of Department for Education figures.

Partly this is a story about London. If London’s schools have benefited from motivated Bangladeshi students, Bangladeshi pupils have also benefited from the attention given to the capital, and especially Tower Hamlets; 70 per cent of Bangladeshis in Britain live in the capital. But even outside the capital, Bangladeshi students “are doing very well”, and outperform Pakistani students, something that was not true in the recent past, says Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol.

The success of Bangladeshi girls, who outperformed boys by eight per cent in 2015, is particularly striking. Increased gender equality in Bangladesh – the gender pay gap fell 31 per cent from 1999-2009 – has led to Bangladeshi parents in England taking female education more seriously, says Abdul Hannan, the Bangladesh High Commissioner in the UK. He traces the development back to 1991, when Khaleda Zia became the first female prime minister in Bangladesh’s history; the country has had a female prime minister for 22 of the last 25 years.

The roots of the Bangladeshi population in Britain might be another factor in their success. The majority of Bangladeshis in the country hail from the city of Sylhet, which is central to Bangladesh’s economy and politics, and renowned for its food. “Our forefathers were the pioneers of the curry industry and we have followed in their footsteps,” says Pasha Khandaker, owner of a small chain of curry houses in Kent, who was born in Sylhet. Brick Lane alone has 57 Bangladeshi-owned curry houses; throughout England, around 90 per cent of all curry houses are owned by British Bangladeshis, according to the Bangladesh High Commission.

Other ethnic groups are less lucky. The skills and social and cultural capital of the British Pakistanis who originate from Mirpur, less integral to Pakistan than Sylhet is to Bangladesh, leave them less able to succeed in Britain, says Dr Parveen Akhtar, from the University of Bradford. The Bangladeshi population is also less constrained by kinship ties, Akhtar believes. In some British Pakistani communities, “individuals can live their lives with little or no contact with other communities”.

Younger British Bangladeshis have benefited from how their parents have become integrated into British life. “The second generation of Bangladeshi children had better financial support, better moral support and better access to education,” Hannan says.

As Bangladeshis have become more successful, so younger generations have become more aspirational. “Before you were an outlier going to university. As more people did it started to open the doors,” says Rushanara Ali, who became the first MP born in Bangladesh in 2010. She has detected an “attitude change about university for boys and girls.” Nasim Ali, a Bangladeshi councillor in Camden believes that, “the focus was on young people getting jobs when they turned 16” a generation ago, but now parents are more willing to spend extra money on tuition. 

Huge challenges remain. While the employment rate of Bangladeshis has improved – the proportion of women in work has risen by one-third in the last five years, according to research by Yaojun Li, from the University of Manchester – it still lags behind educational performance. Nine per cent of working age Bangladeshis are unemployed, almost twice the national average, Li has found. It does not help that the 12,000 Bangladeshi curry houses in Britain are closing at a rate of at least five a week. This does not reflect a lack of demand, says Khandaker, who is also President of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, but the government’s immigration restrictions, making it harder to find high-skilled chefs, and the increased ambition of young Bangladeshis today, who aspire to do more than work in the family business.

But, for all these concerns, as the soaring Bangladeshi children of today progress to adulthood, they will be well poised to gain leading jobs. David Cameron has said that he wants to see a British Asian prime minister in his lifetime. Hannan tells me that he is “positive that one day we will see someone from Bangladesh in the leadership”.

Nothing would better embody the sterling rise of the 600,000 British Bangladeshis. In an age of fear about immigration, the success of the Bangladeshi population in Britain has a deeper resonance. It shows that, with the right support, migrant communities can overcome early struggles to thrive. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.