Why We Should All Be #ProudOfAid - It's Not Just a Nice Idea, It Makes Us Safer Too

15/06/2016 14:52

It is rare that MPs across parties agree on something, but on Monday night Steve Double MP concluded the debate on international aid by saying there was a 'clear cross-party support for spending 0.7% of GDP on international development'.

The almost unanimous support for continuing to ring-fence the aid budget might have come as a surprise to some after 231,388 people signed the Mail's petition to stop spending 0.7 percent on foreign aid.

MP after MP cited countless examples of why aid, well spent, is good for everyone.

So why did the Mail's petition against aid spending garner so much public support? One of the conclusions that Steve Doughty drew yesterday was that we haven't done a very good job of explaining how investing in aid benefits us here in the UK.

It seems examples of aid spent badly often get more of a media spotlight than aid spent well.

That's not to downplay the vital importance of rigorous checks and balances to make sure that money given to aid is spent efficiently and effectively - and it is right to call out and challenge any seeming bad practice.

But the reality is that spending British taxpayers money on helping the poorest countries in the world makes the UK - and the world - a safer and better place for all of us.

And, until Monday's debate, this important point had not had enough airtime.

There is, of course, also a moral argument that sharing our wealth is a decent thing to do when so many of our global neighbours are suffering in absolute poverty or hit by disasters outside their control.

Last year, during Ebola, Mariama became a teenage mum. She had been abused and impregnated whilst her parents were in hospital with Ebola. Her mother survived Ebola but she lost her dad, the breadwinner for the family. Mariama, her mum and little sister resorted to crushing rocks to try and eke out a living. Today, thanks to Street Child - funded by UK aid - instead of crushing rocks, Mariama is back in school, and so is her sister. We helped her mum start a sustainable business that allows her to look after Mariama's baby and fund education for both her daughters. It's hard not to feel like that's the right thing to do.

Whether you share this view or not, it is harder to argue against the fact that investing in a world where more people are educated, and fewer are in desperate poverty, is actually good for the UK. It just makes sense.

As Stephen Doughty MP said:

'It is irresponsible for us to ignore those in a world where poverty, insecurity and instability have consequences for our streets and our cities.'

He, and others, cited examples of how gross poverty fuels extremism, and leads to migration as people seek to escape the very poverty and insecurity that UK aid aims to help tackle.

He asked 'Do we seriously think that diseases such as Ebola and other pandemics, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, resist borders? Of course they do not. Our aid plays a crucial role in tackling such diseases.'

Ebola is one very clear example of the danger that a lack of education and healthcare in a country thousands of miles away can pose to all of us.

The first victim of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Finda Nymah, was a grandmother from a village called Kpondu.

Her death in May 2014, a tragedy in its own right, led to tragedy on a vast scale. The World Health Organisation estimates that her funeral alone led directly to 350 deaths from the virus.

Over the following two years, Ebola spread far beyond the small, remote village of Kpondu on the Guinea-Liberia-Sierra Leone border to claim almost 4,000 lives in Sierra Leone, and leave 12,000 children orphaned. It marked the start of the deeper region-wide Ebola crisis and caused a global health emergency.

The incredibly low levels of healthcare and education in the three worst hit countries were the key underlying factors behind the spread of Ebola, putting other countries at risk and requiring huge sums of international aid to be spent to control the virus.

Finda Nymah and the many Finda-like tragedies that played out on grim scale over West Africa in late 2014 showed how the illiteracy of one person was not just their own personal problem or tragedy - it was something that could have dramatic consequences for all of us.

Illiterate people who engage in dangerous health practices do not just endanger themselves - but can unwittingly put lives at risk on the other side of the planet.

Finda lived in a cluster of 12 villages where there has never been a school. It is easy not to get Ebola - don't touch ill or recently deceased people. But if you don't have the educational ability to receive, or scientific understanding to trust, this message you are at grave risk at a time when the virus is around. And as a result so to some extent are we all.

Today, builders in Sierra Leone will be working on Kpondu's first school, built by UK NGO Street Child with funds donated by the British public and Government. The school means that Finda's twin toddler granddaughters will have access to the education that could have saved their village, and Sierra Leone, from Ebola.


As Stephen Timms MP highlighted when he spoke about the importance of education for all, this is not just good for these girls - it is good for everyone, wherever they are.

DFID is currently match funding all donations to Street Child's Girls Speak Out appeal which aims to help 20,000 poor and Ebola-hit children to access school this year. Programmes like this, investing in preventing Ebola orphans from becoming a lost generation and giving them hope for life, change lives in Sierra Leone, but also make us that bit safer, here.

Of course there are rightful questions to be asked about how aid is invested - after all badly
administered aid helps no-one - but what the Mail's debate has actually revealed is the depth of cross-party support for helping our international neighbour.

The Mail's petition also proved that we need to talk more about the huge positive impact that British generosity is having both at home and abroad. Perhaps, then, the next debate will not be about reducing aid spending but asking whether we are giving enough?

Tom Dannatt is CEO of Street Child, a UK NGO working to help some of the world's poorest chil-dren to access education. All donations to Street Child's Girls Speak Out Appeal will be doubled by the UK government until 17th July 2016: