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  • Blog
  • 25 July 2019

Priorities for the UK’s incoming Secretary of State Alok Sharma

As Alok Sharma takes office as Secretary of State, DI's Amy Dodd sets out key priorities for the UK and its global development agenda.

Written by Amy Dodd

Head of Engagement

The UK has a new government once again. There is no question that the last three years have been a time of political upheaval in the UK, and turbulence will continue for the foreseeable future with Brexit likely to dominate the agenda. But the business of government must continue. As a new government takes office, with some potentially significant changes in approach and ideology, it is important to reflect on what their other priorities should be. The UK has an important role it can and should play, both in remembering the promises made in the Sustainable Development Goals (promises the UK was key in shaping) and in continuing to shape the future of global development efforts as we move closer to the ‘decade of delivery’ for Agenda 2030.

We have promised to deliver sustainable development for all, to leave no one behind, and to ensure everyone benefits from growth; however, as DI’s recent briefing shows, globally the poorest people continue to be left behind in terms of income, progress and opportunity. In some cases that gap is actually growing: the gap between the daily income of the poorest 20% globally and everyone else, for example, is projected to grow from $13.71 in 2000 to $22.73 by 2030. This concerning trend is also borne out by non-income indicators of poverty and marginalisation, such as education completion or childhood mortality. Globally the progress of the poorest 20% of people is not accelerating fast enough (or at all, in many cases) to catch up with the rest. This is particularly true for certain groups and demographics, such as gender – girls have a lower rate of successfully completing secondary education than boys, for instance. Alongside this, the resources needed to address these challenges – financing both from domestic governments and international flows such as aid – are not prioritising the poorest people and places. Bilateral aid to the least developed countries, for example, has grown by only 0.1% since 2010, while other bilateral aid has grown by 15%.

Alok Sharma takes office as Secretary of State only months away from critical moments – such as September’s SDG Summit in New York – that could be key to driving global efforts around delivering on the SDGs. The new Secretary of State and the UK need to:

  • Continue championing the promises made on aid (to reach 0.7% of GNI) and improving targeting of aid to the poorest places and people. Sharma has already recognised in his appointment statement that delivering on the 0.7% commitment “shows we are an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world”, and emphasised the importance of facilitating access to education for the poorest and most vulnerable people. Delivering on commitments also means driving investment to vital human capital sectors including education but also health and social protection.
  • Move the promise to Leave No One Behind back up the agenda. The UK was one of the lead architects of the commitment, and championed critical parts of it – in particular on gender and disability. Leaving no one behind is key to closing the gap and delivering the core of the SDG promise, and the UK must retake that mantle and help drive real action to meet the spirit of that promise.
  • Build on the UK’s strong historic record of championing and driving progress in transparency, evidence and data use to drive better decision making. Promoting a strong agenda on data on people to ensure everyone is counted and counts – particularly people who are being left behind and marginalised – would be a critical step.

The UK has a chance to show the world it is serious about remaining a ‘Global Britain’ and, in Sharma’s own words, to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. But doing so requires action, and a willingness to stand up on the global stage and champion this agenda.

Photo credit: Benet Coulber/DFID