Opposing DFID’S Privatisation Agenda

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2016 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2016

Conference is concerned that the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is aggressively promoting the private sector as an alternative provider of public services globally.

Traditionally privatisation, driven by the international finance institutions, has been promoted in infrastructure projects, particularly water, sanitation and energy, often with terrible consequences, but increasingly DFID is promoting a stronger role for the private sector in education and health.

In education DFID has been promoting the role of private and low fee schools as an alternative to publically run schools, including through its investment arm, the CDC Group. One preferred model, which has striking similarities to the ‘school’s pence’ system, abolished in Britain in 1891, involves low daily fees, large classes and unqualified teachers with very little training, instructed to read a lesson from a hand-held computer.

Conference believes this investment in private and part-private education as an alternative to publically provided education, increases inequality, drives down standards and undermines publically provided education. It damages the opportunities of children from poorer backgrounds and is counter to the sustainable development goal on free, equitable and quality education.

In healthcare the privatisation agenda is far more advanced. Since the 1980s the international finance institutions have been encouraging low income countries to open up their health markets to foreign investors.

In recent years the UK government has been promoting various forms of private and part private healthcare provision in low income countries, particularly Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). These include promoting the UK as “world leader in healthcare PPPs” and DFID support for the establishment of a PPP advisory facility at the International Finance Corporation. The approval of the Sustainable Development Goal on universal access to healthcare is likely to be seen by the UK government and many multinational companies as an opportunity for massive expansion in private healthcare provision, to the detriment of public services.

Conference further believes that public healthcare systems produce efficiencies of scale, are better able to control costs and have lower administrative costs. They are more effective and efficient in meeting the health care needs of the whole population, lead to better health outcomes and help reduce inequality. Private and part private healthcare systems on the other hand are more expensive to run, are primarily accountable to shareholders, disadvantage the poorest and further erode public services.

Where healthcare is provided for free, it is much more likely to be accessed by the poorest. Where it is paid for, even at low cost, it can absorb a significant proportion of the income of the poorest in society, forcing women in particular to choose between education, health, shelter or food.

Conference recognises the work by education unions to highlight DFID’s privatisation agenda in education, but is concerned by the lack of focus on the privatisation of healthcare.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s work with the global union, Public Services International (PSI), to support health unions in Ebola-affected countries in West Africa to campaign for decent public health services.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Highlight and oppose DFID and the UK government’s aggressive promotion of private and part private healthcare and education provision in low income countries;

2)Promote the value of decent public health and education services;

3)Work with PSI, sister unions and progressive NGOs to achieve this.