Civil servants in the Department for International Development ‘only wanted to hear good news’ to pass on to the UN, says disability charity.

Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart is facing accusations that his department is using a landmark report to the UN to “sweep under the carpet” recent failures to combat poverty in the UK.

Today, Shadow International Development Minister Dan Carden predicted that a secretively-drafted report by the Department for International Development (DFID) – the Voluntary National Review – which is due to be sent to the UN this Friday, will be “a blatant attempt to sweep under the carpet the UK’s failure… to tackle poverty, hunger, and homelessness in our own country, the fifth richest on the planet.”

In recent months, parliamentary committees have been investigating whether the report, which the DFID has been refusing to disclose to Parliament, will give a falsely rosy view of the UK’s progress on the UN’s seventeen ‘global goals’ to sustainably develop the world by 2030.

Civil servants were receptive to hearing about the (many) areas of failure identified by stakeholders, but were very clear that these would not be included in the review.

Disability Rights UK

Mr Carden said: “There could not be a bigger agenda out there, changing the world by 2030, and yet it is clear there is little or no leadership in the UK.”

Speaking in a debate on the UN’s sustainable development goals in Parliament today, the Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart told MPs that his department had collected “200 case studies” and held “a parliamentary event” for the report on the UK’s progress on the goals.

“We have tried to be as fair and as frank as we can be,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “We do have significant problems in our country, food banks for example.”

Mr Stewart said that he finds poverty in the UK’s elderly population “shocking”, giving the example of one frail, elderly person having to care for another with little support. He said the UK needs to catch-up with other countries in establishing support structures for “the vulnerable, the frail, the elderly”.


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On environmental issues, Mr Stewart said the UK is also not doing enough to respond to the “climate emergency” and, as International Development Secretary, “I want to double the amount we spend on climate and the environment”.

However, Mr Stewart sought to defend the UK’s record on sustainable growth from a global perspective, with many people around the world priced out of healthcare or other public services. “This is coming back again and again to the question of… absolute poverty and relative poverty,” he added.

Last week, it was suggested that civil servants compiling the UN report only wanted “positive case studies” on disabled citizens’ experiences.

Charity Disability Rights UK wrote to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee, stating: “Civil servants involved only wanted to hear good news. Requests were made for case studies, but only positive case studies, not areas that needed improvement.

“Civil servants were receptive to hearing about the (many) areas of failure identified by stakeholders, but were very clear that these would not be included in the review.”

Byline Times asked Emily Auckland, chair of the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development – a network of organisations pushing for action on the UN sustainable development goals in the UK – whether this tailoring of the message amounts to censorship.

There could not be a bigger agenda out there, changing the world by 2030, and yet it is clear there is little or no leadership in the UK.

Shadow International Development Minister Dan Carden

“I’m not sure censorship is the right word,” Ms Auckland told this newspaper. “They weren’t being given a meaningful opportunity to reflect back to civil servants what their perspective is.”

She said she hopes the lacklustre meeting between Disability Rights UK and civil servants was a “misunderstanding”, but characterised the Government’s consultation as “weak”.

MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, last week wrote to DFID ministers accusing them of failing to meet UN guidelines on ‘transparency’.

“The UN Guidelines set out that a VNR should be open, inclusive, participatory and transparent”, she told DFID Minister, Baroness Liz Sugg. Yet, “evidence to us pointed to stakeholder engagement being limited and often at short notice”.

Ms Creagh also complained that DFID Ministers have rowed back on promises to consult Parliament on the UN goals and to show MPs any draft of their report.

“Parliament has not had a genuine opportunity to contribute,” she stated.

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