This morning I attended a speech given by the Deputy Prime Minister on international development. The banner behind him stated 'Proud of UK Aid'.
There is, indeed, much to be proud of about UK aid; not least that we have met the internationally agreed 0.7% target for the first time in challenging economic circumstances. For such a small sum of money - as Nick Clegg said himself, less than we spend on takeaways every year - it achieves a huge amount of good.
At Sightsavers we have used UK aid in recent years to screen 40 million people for potential sight problems, provide 1.2 million people with sight-restoring surgery, and protect 75 million people from neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma. On a larger scale, every year the UK aid budget educates more children than live in the whole of the UK.
Clegg mentioned the work DFID Minister Lynne Featherstone is doing to ensure that children with disabilities are included in this number, and better able to access the education they need with help from UK aid. This is a very important initiative, and follows on from her recognition that disability is the 'great neglect' in development. But overall, UK and international aid is still not delivering for people with disabilities.
One in seven of the world's population has some form of disability, and these are disproportionately found amongst the poorest of the poor in developing countries, where 80% of them live. Yet they are routinely excluded from development programmes - unable to access the education, healthcare, sanitation and livelihoods they need to fulfil their potential and help lift themselves, their families and societies out of poverty. The UK's own Department for International Development does not have a disability strategy. This is why Sightsavers is running its 'Put Us in the Picture' campaign, and over 12,000 people have now signed a petition to show that they agree with us that this situation must be addressed.
There are signs that things are changing. As well as the mention of disability in the Deputy Prime Minister's speech this morning - the first time the issue has been raised in so high-level an address - and the work done by his Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone at DFID, the International Development Select Committee has published a report echoing Sightsavers' call for a "disability strategy with clear targets and timescales".
This is hugely encouraging, and presents an enormous opportunity to the UK Government. If they accept this recommendation, not only will UK aid become more equitable, but also more effective. We cannot hope to overcome extreme poverty if we ignore the potential contribution of 15% of the world's population; a systematic approach to the inclusion of people with disabilities is what's needed if we are to achieve Nick Clegg's vision of "fairer societies for all".
Clegg said, after confirming that a pledge to put the 0.7% aid pledge into law would feature in the Liberal Democrats' offering to the electorate, that "the more important question is what we spend the money on". I couldn't agree more; and that's why Sightsavers is calling on political parties, including the Lib Dems, to include a commitment to including people with disabilities in development in their election manifestos. In this way they can demonstrate to the British public that they are committed to a UK aid policy that reaches those who most need its help.
That's something we could really be proud of.