On Monday Parliament debated an online petition on our commitment to continue to spend .7% of our GDP on International Development. As a member of the International Development Committee and committed internationalist I have strong views on the matter. The issue attracted many MP's interest and a number of constituents wrote to me about the matter. Sadly when considering that my views on the matter had been made clear on previous occasions and that many other members wished to contribute, I was not asked to speak in the debate. You can see the debate here, and below is the speech I would have given in defence of our contribution worldwide.
I support the long term commitment we made in the International Development Act 2015.
The UK has joined an elite group of countries who have upheld their promise to the UN and the developing world to give 0.7% of their gross national income.
This official development assistance is going towards supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
There are several arguments as to why we must continue to provide official development assistance at this level, and I would like to address some of the criticisms that have been levelled at our commitment.
This commitment to aid allows the UK to simultaneously maintain our promise to help the world’s poor and protect our own national interests.
Our aid goes towards providing vaccinations, implementing food safety plans and helping to develop accountable tax systems so countries can take steps to stand on their own.
In the last five years, the UK has been able to support 11 million children to receive an education, distribute 47 million mosquito nets and assist over 60 million people in accessing better sanitation and hygiene.
Even with all of this being accomplished, there is still much left to do.
An estimated 650 million people still don’t have access to clean water and 124 million children are not yet enrolled in school.
In 2014 alone, 2 million people were infected with HIV, 1 and a half million people died from TB and there were an average of 830 children dying every day from malaria.
There isn’t a country in the world where women have the same opportunities as men.
In 2015, there were only 19 female heads of state across the world and 150 countries still have laws that differentiate between men and women.
Globally, women are paid less than men and in most countries, women account for between 60 and 75% of all new HIV infections, and girls are one and a half times less likely to complete secondary education than boys.
Multilateral organizations that address these issues, such as The Global Fund, have had great success thanks to assistance they have received from the UK.
In areas where the Global Fund invests, there are now 1/3 fewer deaths from AIDS, TB and malaria.
When a girl is provided with sexual and reproductive health and rights, she will lead a healthier life, be better educated and equipped to make decisions for herself, her children and her family.
This message was loud and clear at the Women Deliver conference I attended a few weeks ago in Copenhagen.
5,758 change makers from 169 countries travelled to the Danish capital to focus the world’s attention on how we make the Sustainable Development Goals matter most for girls and women.
It is key that the UK continues to support the fight to eradicate diseases and promote a healthy and equitable world.
Critics of the International Development Act have claimed this target will result in the UK giving money to programs that have not been properly vetted just to meet the goal.
They say enshrining a specific amount of aid to be given makes the target more important than the effectiveness of the programs.
I don’t agree.
The Department for International Development uses a thorough screening process to determine where to spend aid money and they aim to improve the effectiveness of aid by keeping processes transparent.
We have there is also the Independent Commission for Aid Impact within DFID to further measure efficiency.
DIFD perform their own independent reviews of our aid spending to ensure we are receiving as much value for our money as possible.
These reports include recommendations for improvement which the government is obligated to respond to.
In addition, the National Audit Office has performed value for money audits in regards to where the tax money of UK citizens is going in terms of official development assistance.
In 2016, the Aid Transparency Index labelled the Department for International Development as “very good” and ranked it as the fourth most transparent development agency, which placed it higher than any other European donor.
Opponents of this Act have also argued that the value of .7% for official development assistance seems arbitrary or out of date.
Many of the complaints about foreign aid and the inclusion of a set amount of it in laws include the argument that the money should be spent on UK national interests.
However, national interests and the outlined goals of foreign aid are not at odds with each other.
The Department for International Development has outlined four areas to target.
Strengthening security and governance; strengthening responses to crisis; promoting economic prosperity and eliminating extreme poverty.
Sending foreign aid to assist in the strengthening of security and governance will fight crime and corruption in other parts of the world.
Helping to create and sustain stable and fair governments will in turn help improve our own national security from foreign threats.
Assisting in the development of other nations will promote global prosperity through social and economic development and the reduction of poverty, which will strengthen existing trade and investment opportunities for the UK and open the door to new ones.
When the UK sends assistance to developing countries and assists them in becoming sustainable economies, they become strong trading partners.
Even with media coverage suggesting otherwise, a Europe wide survey conducted in 2016 showed large public support for the EU’s promise to continue development assistance to developing countries.
86% of British citizens ranked helping people in developing countries as “important.”
Additionally, 77% of us in a 2015 poll conducted by ‘ONE’ believed MPs should uphold their promise to help the world’s poor.
With the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York last September, we have a clear roadmap for the end of extreme poverty and social and economic sustainable development.
While the UK has the power and expertize to lead transformational development, it must not withdraw and abandon so many that need our support.
We should be proud of the UK’s position as a world leader in fighting poverty and helping to build a more prosperous future for people around the world.
By upholding the promise we have made to give 0.7% of our gross national income as foreign aid, the UK can support some of the world’s most in need populations and protect our own interests.
We should be proud of reaching the 0.7% goal we set ourselves, and I fully support the continuation of this Act.