The British House of Commons debated earlier in June whether the UK should maintain its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of national income on foreign aid, following an online petition urging the government to reconsider its pledge.
This target was agreed on by the UN and the UK was the first country reaching it in 1970. Today six countries met this target, but the UK is the only G7 country to do so.
However, it has now been called into question, with some arguing the government is committed to helping people overseas while cutting vital services at home. There are also some concerns about where the money is going and how it is being spent, although the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is amongst the most transparent aid donors.
What happened at the debate?
During the debate, there was an overall acceptance that most UK foreign aid spending creates positive changes in the poorest countries. The need for more transparency and effectiveness of programs was reiterated.
(Perhaps my favourite quote from the debate was from Desmond Swayne, the Minister of State for International Development: “The UK is spending 0.7% on the world’s poorest and 99.3% on itself. I’m not sure I’d want to meet somebody who spent 99.3% of their income on themselves!”)
So what has UK aid achieved?
The UK’s aid budget gives us an incredible opportunity to transform the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. Here are some quick facts:
Thanks to significant progress in international development the proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined by 60% between 1990 and 2011. In absolute terms, this means almost 1 billion people have been lifted from poverty.
In 1990 one in ten children in the world died before age 5; today it’s one in 20.
However, the number of people living in extreme poverty remains unacceptably high, with an estimated 900 million people surviving on less than $1.90 a day, and million more who make little more than this. That is why our aid budget is still vital.
We, at Tzedek believe that it is our responsibility to seek justice and help people in desperate situation. We believe poverty is human-made and not a fatality and we cannot ignore the problems of those living on the other side of the planet. It is our responsibility to act towards a global and sustainable development.
Helping the vulnerable is not a zero sum game. In this regard, the refugee crisis has been a wake-up call. It has shown us that we cannot just ignore the sufferings of the others without expecting any impact in our country. We need to remind ourselves that development is a shared progress, bringing global prosperity.
UK aid has already achieved so much. We should be proud of this investment and ensure that it is targeted to the countries and development programmes where it will have the greatest impact on ending extreme poverty.
- A report of the Parliamentary Debate, Humanosphere, June 13th: http://www.humanosphere.org/world-politics/2016/06/u-k-foreign-aid-debate-shows-cross-party-support-rather-than-division/
- An Explanation on where UK aid goes, The Guardian, June 13th : http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jun/13/everything-you-need-to-know-about-uk-aid-spending-pledge
- UN 2015 Sustainable Development Goals: Facts and Figures: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/poverty/
- The Daily Mail Campaign against 0.7%, April 17th: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3543866/Victory-Mail-Sunday-reader-army-forces-House-Commons-debate-Britain-s-12billion-foreign-aid-madness.html
- A critic of UK aid by Diane Abott, The Guardian, June 4th: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jun/04/uk-government-hijacking-aid-budget-bankroll-big-business-military-security-objectives-diane-abbott
- Aid watchdog highlight need for sustainability of UK aid, Bond, May 24th: https://www.bond.org.uk/news/2016/05/aid-watchdog-praises-impressive-results-but-highlights-need-for-sustainability
Written by Eleanor Batilliet, intern at Tzedek. If you’re interested in joining the Tzedek team as an intern, get in touch with your CV and a cover letter.