Hunger isn’t just a health or poverty issue, it’s an education and productivity issue too. Photo: Getty
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Relief, resilience and reform: Labour’s strategy to fight hunger

The shadow Dfid secretary Jim Murphy on Labour's three Rs for fighting world hunger.

Thirty years on from the Ethiopian famine, this week’s launch of the Global Hunger Index , reminds us that hunger hasn’t gone away.

The importance of winning this fight hardly needs stating. Access to food is a human right, starvation is a killer; under-nourishment and malnutrition destroy lives and hold back entire nations. That injustice alone provides a clear moral responsibility to act, and with nutrient deficiencies creating a knock on global cost of reaching $2 trillion a year in lost output there is an economic imperative as well.

Hunger, of course does not occur at random and defeating hunger will not be an accident. It occurs where things have gone badly wrong – things we have the power to change, and ending hunger will be a choice. In the end it will come down to strategic planning and political will. After all, as it is often said that there is enough food in the world, but it’s just concentrated in the wrong places, and whilst the solution therefore might be simple, it isn’t easy. If a fairer share for everyone was straight forward we would have done it, but hunger – and hidden hunger – is far more complicated. 

And this report helps explain why – in a sea of steady progress around the world, some states stand out against the tide. States like Swaziland – home to the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, where one in four are infected, which has seen hunger soar since 1990, and those like Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for whom we are unable to even gather the data. These states have been home to disease, violence, poor governance. Not so very different to the dominant themes of this month’s nightly news.

Today, the terror of Ebola and the terrorists of ISIL cast a long shadow over global affairs. Here at home we tend to concentrate on the threat of these killers arriving on our shores, and that is understandable, but we must never forget that any threat than hangs over us is a daily reality for those already in harm’s way. And beyond the immediate tragedy of the most direct victims, is a slow motion car crash of crumbling infrastructure, decaying communities and broken lives.

In Syria today we see this at its most striking. A civil war, a breakdown of governance, an end to the rule of law and the most basic of public services and civic rights. The return of polio, hunger and poverty on a scale not seen in decades. Those trapped within Syria’s civil war today are not just at risk of malnutrition, violence and disease. They are left utterly powerless. Just like food there is no shortage, but it is unfairly concentrated in the hands of too few, and kept from the grip of too many.

For Labour, power – and empowerment – is what development is about. And at the heart of that idea is the connection between all of those wrongs we in development seek to right, from climate change to disease, violence and hunger. From Syria to Sierra Leone, the problems we seek to address cannot be picked off one at a time. After all, hunger isn’t just a health issue, or a poverty issue, it’s an education issue and a productivity issue as well. It’s a problem of powerlessness. The causes are interlinked, and the consequences are interlinked. So our response must be too.

The next Labour government will operate a three point response to hunger – relief for today, resilience for tomorrow, and reform for the future. First, in a world where the impact of climate change is becoming a daily reality for millions of the world’s poor, whilst the global population continues to rise, localised emergencies will continue to arise, and when they do, the UK – alongside the international community – must be on hand to lend our support.

Second, is resilience, an idea with one simple truth is at its core – prevention is better than cure. As an occasional marathon runner I know the old adage that when you are thirsty it is already too late. When urgent need arises we are already too late – the same is true of conflict and hunger.

The solution is to make changes now to avert catastrophe in the future. Concern’s work on resilience in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa has shown the difference this can make. The millions who aren’t trapped by hunger because of the work done by schemes like these might not make the news but in their own quiet way, these are the sensations of development, and resilience is why.

And finally, as in all areas of development, long-term system reform is our priority. That’s how you get to the root cause of those power imbalances we seek to address. Dealing with the disease rather than treating the symptoms means taking on the rules of the game that leave one in 9 to go to bed hungry whilst almost half the world’s food is thrown away.

That’s why Labour led the world in dropping the debt, and trebled aid setting the course to donate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to Official Development Assistance, and it’s why we have pledged that the next Labour government will double UK support aimed at helping developing countries improve their tax base and provide more for their own citizens through a stronger exchequer.

Further, we understand that with action on climate we risk reversing all the gains we have made in development over the past three decades so Labour will work with international partners to bring about a meaningful agreement to finally bring climate change under control. And finally within the Sustainable Development Goals, we will argue for an ambitious and achievable goal on hunger, backed up by strong attendant targets

We need to beat hunger today, tomorrow and forever. Ending hunger by 2030 won’t be easy and I can’t pretend that I have all the answers. But through a UK strategy based around reform, resilience and relief I am confident we can play our part.

Jim Murphy is Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for international development

Jim Murphy is the former Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and leader of Scottish Labour 2014-15.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.