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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As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.