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The UK Should Be Proud to Lead on Meeting the 0.7% Target for Aid

13/06/2016 12:51

Today, the House of Commons will debate a petition to stop spending 0.7 percent of the UK's national income on Overseas Aid.

UK aid is determined by legislation which commits the UK Government to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA), set out in the 2015 International Development (Official Development Assistance) Act.

The percentage of GNI target was first suggested in 1969 by the Pearson Commission. In 1970, the resolution was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

It was greeted with optimism by the likes of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who said that "policies can be devised to make further aid unnecessary by the end of this century".

As ODI suggested back in 1969, the 0.7% target (and indeed, aid more broadly) was never supposed to be a perpetual effort. It was designed as a means of generating the resources to end the need for aid.

Significant progress has been made in the global struggle against poverty. Between 1990 and 2015, the global number of extreme poor fell from 1.9 billion to 836 million; the proportion of undernourished people from 23% to less than 13%, and the primary school net-enrolment rate in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 52% to 80%.

The International Development Committee supports the 0.7% target because the job is not yet done. Poverty, hunger, gender and income inequality, poor health, environmental degradation and many other problems remain enormous challenges.

The global community has recognised the need to tackle these issues in the form of the ground-breaking commitments set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UK Government took a leading role in setting out this pathway to ending poverty, and the financial and political commitment that has been shown should be a matter of pride for the UK. Yet as our recent report highlights, the Goals will not be achieved without adequate donor commitment including in the form of aid. Rather than renouncing the 0.7% target, the UK needs to use its global weight to press other donors to meet it too.

There are many excellent examples of the positive benefits of UK aid.

UK aid has played a crucial role in alleviating the appalling humanitarian crisis arising from war in Syria. I visited Jordan with Oxfam last Autumn and saw for myself how aid is helping Syrian refugees in key areas like health, education and feeding their families.

On a recent trip to Nigeria, the Committee learned about a UK-funded project that is fighting Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) such as trachoma, elephantiasis and hookworm. NTDs cause misery to 500million of the poorest and hardest to reach in Africa, yet this project had managed to reach 22.4million Nigerians by November 2015 at a cost of just over £12million. The ability to change the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable by freeing them from debilitating diseases - at a cost of around 50p per beneficiary - is testament to the impact that the UK public's generosity can have.

It is not just overseas that the benefits can be felt, but also right here at home.

As the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell, former Secretary of State for International Development, has pointed out, UK aid spending is "in our long-term economic interests". Economic development in emerging markets is beneficial to UK exports, as demonstrated by the rapid pace of development in China between 1994 and 2014 which coincided with a 24-fold increase in UK exports to China.

The increasing focus that the Department of International Development (DFID) has placed on supporting economic development recognises the mutual benefits that the process of development can have for both aid recipients and the UK.

It is absolutely right that the UK Government should be held accountable for its aid spending. As in all areas of public expenditure, the British people are right to expect value for money. The International Development Committee works with the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to oversee UK aid. DFID is also held accountable by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

I welcome today's Westminster Hall debate. It is important that we have an open discussion about UK aid. I am proud of the many positive things which aid has delivered but I am determined that we provide both accountability and value for money.

Stephen Twigg is the chair of the International Development Committee, and Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby

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