THE BLOG

In Defence of Aid and 0.7%

01/03/2013 10:08 GMT | Updated 30/04/2013 10:12 BST

We could be the generation to end poverty. For many that statement seems a little unbelievable at least in part because we've heard it all before. But it really is possible - the problem is maybe that we've tended to get too bogged down in the past and thinking that the problem of global poverty is just too big to solve. The progress that we have seen in the last 13 years has been impressive, not least in halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. But there is still much to do and development outcomes still seem to depend significantly on factors outside an individual's control - things like geography and gender.

In this year's budget, the UK is due to hit the 0.7% of GNI target for official development assistance (ODA) funding. It's a proud moment for the UK as we're only the sixth country to do so and one of the few that still looks set to do so before the 2015 deadline we all signed up to. We'll also be the largest donor in absolute terms to meet the target and, in these much more difficult times, that is something to be proud of.

Not proud that we are 'taking money away' from those who are also sorely in need here in the UK, as some would have you believe, but proud that we are trying to live up to our responsibilities here and overseas to support and help those who need it regardless of where they were born. To help those who are too often victims of circumstances and problems outside their control. To help by providing that bit of support that can be crucial to climbing out of poverty, creating opportunities and a more inclusive and equal global society. And we know the impact that good, real aid can have - saving lives, empowering people to claim their rights, creating the conditions for economic growth and helping to secure peace and good governance in some of the poorest, most challenging places in the world. In 2011/12, just one year, UK aid helped over 6 million people with emergency food aid, almost 12 million people get access to formal financial services and supported fairer and freer elections for 76 million people. And that's just a few of the things it's done.

But there is still much to be done and success in ending global problems like poverty is only possible if we all live up to our commitments - both on the quantity of aid and its quality.

What we will spend on aid next year to help millions and millions of people around the world - just over £11 billion at the moment - is a relatively little drop in a pretty big pond. It's just 1.6 pence in every pound the government spends.

On March 1st, Parliament will consider a Private Members Bill that would turn the UK's 0.7% commitment into law. But given that we are due to meet 0.7% anyway and all the signs are that the government will live up to this commitment, why do we care about a bill?

It might seem like overkill but when you look at the history, the reasons become clearer. If the UK hits the target this year, it will have been 40 years since we committed to do so. The bill would make sure that the UK continued to live up to its commitments for as long as it is needed.

And perhaps more importantly, at a time when international commitment to aid and development seems to be sliding, it shows the rest of the world that Britain is serious about tackling global problems like poverty and development.

The UK has a long history as global leaders in development. This is a chance to build on that history and, particularly with the G8 in the UK this year, encourage others to follow our example.