Cutting development spending now would be self-defeating

In a globalised and interdependent economy, we all stand to benefit from development spending.

While the Chancellor was delivering his Autumn Statement to a packed House of Commons, I was visiting immunisation services at a rural health centre on the foothills of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I saw for myself how UK development funding was being spent on the ground. Rural women had travelled with their children for miles to this remote clinic so that they might, through a simple vaccination, avoid life-threatening disease. The Autumn Statement provided an opportunity for some to ask the Chancellor to stop ring-fencing funding for international development. “Charity”, they say, “begins at home”. This has an obvious resonance in the current economic climate. However, it is a message which fails to recognise the value of development funding which goes beyond a simple handout and makes it an investment not just in the future of the otherwise impoverished but in our own future too.

The UK has a proud record in international development and can rightly claim to be a global leader in promoting effective, cost-efficient and innovative support to countries in the developing world. From the Labour governments of Blair and Brown, to the current coalition, international development is one of the areas of policy that we can be most proud. UK funding is helping to save lives, eradicate poverty and build healthy, economically vibrant communities across the world. We all stand to benefit from that in this globalised and interdependent economy.

I am here in Tanzania to participate in a global health partners’ forum being hosted by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health in partnership with the GAVI Alliance. The purpose of my visit is to meet parliamentarians from around the world, from both donor and recipient countries, and to foster greater political will for the introduction and sustainability of vaccine programmes to prevent pneumonia, diarrhoea, cervical cancer and rubella. Whilst here, we will take part in a series of debates and workshops and will meet with global health leaders, technical experts and civil society organisations. We are visiting urban and rural immunisation centres and clinics and meeting the very people that the UK taxpayer is helping to support through the availability of vaccines. Their gratitude for the UK’s contribution to GAVI for this life-saving initiative is humbling.

The theme of the conference is to explore ways to accelerate results, innovation, sustainability and equity in the field of immunisation. Taken in isolation, pneumonia - one of the leading killers of children under five in the developing world - is responsible for more than 1.3 million child deaths every year. By utilising a unique market shaping model, the GAVI Alliance aims to help avert 500,000 deaths by 2015 and 1.5 million future deaths by 2020. The story is much the same with diarrhoea, where effective vaccines are being used to tackle the leading cause of diarrhoeal disease. Diarrhoea is estimated to kill around 450,000 children every year - that’s nearly 1,200 children every day. These deaths are preventable and UK support is playing a vital role in making that happen.       

GAVI ought to need no introduction, nevertheless, it remains the too often unsung heroine of unified global action on development. Earlier this year I was back in Ghana, the country of my childhood, to witness the dual roll-out of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea.  GAVI was once again a welcome partner to local action on immunisation.

GAVI is a truly unique organisation. It brings together civil society, vaccine manufacturers, Governments and the private sector to use innovative finance mechanisms to secure significant development outcomes. One of these mechanisms is the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which I worked on with Gordon Brown during my time at the Treasury. GAVI has since become a byword for the successful and cost-effective delivery of international development, to the extent that David Cameron last year committed a further £814 million to support GAVI’s work.   

For those who continue to doubt the benefits of a sustained, long-term commitment to development funding, I would suggest they look at Tanzania to see the difference that UK funding is making to individual lives and communities. This difference is being repeated across the world. The cost of preventable disease, not just in human terms but in its destructive impact on overall health costs and wasted economic potential, is glaringly obvious in a country where women will walk miles with their babies on their backs to ensure a healthy life for a child. Our hard-earned taxpayers' money helps guarantee a healthy future for more children the world over. As a result, our world becomes a better place and the lives of those who share it with us become safer and more prosperous. That is surely worth a line in the Autumn Statement.

Former Labour cabinet minister Paul Boateng chairs a meeting of global health leaders in Tanzania.

Paul Boateng, a former British high commissioner to South Africa, MP, cabinet minister and civil rights lawyer, is a member of the House of Lords and a trustee of the Planet Earth Institute

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.