Ask a particularly extreme proponent of the free market how they see the future, and they might conjure up schools run by Coca-Cola and education programmes administered by Price Waterhouse Coopers. Or they might see hospitals operated as companies by nurse-entrepreneurs who compete for private equity funds.
To the rest of us, this sounds like a nightmare. But it is a vision of society which is not far off in parts of Africa and Asia, brought to hundreds of thousands of people thanks to British aid money.
Turning basic needs into commodities to be bought and sold for profit takes a long time in a country with an established welfare state, where people are proud of their NHS and comprehensive school system. It’s easier in countries where public provision has been destroyed by decades of savage austerity imposed by western-controlled institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
It’s in those countries that our government has used the development budget – another aspect of public provision we should be proud of – to test out ultra-free-market ideas. Our new report exposes the Department for International Development (DFID) as a world leader in spearheading this push towards privatisation of education and healthcare.
In one example, DFID is spending £355 million on a project called the Girl’s Education Challenge which is managed by British multinational Price Waterhouse Coopers. Key to the initiative is the promotion of private provision of education, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda. One partner in the Challenge is Coca-Cola, which is working in Nigeria to promote ‘the economic empowerment of 5 million female entrepreneurs across the global Coca-Cola value chain’. So Coca-Cola doesn’t simply see this as an opportunity to ‘greenwash’ its brand, but a direct commercial advantage.