Moran calls for reversal of international aid cuts and focus on poverty

On Wednesday, amid the mass resignation of ministers, Layla Moran spoke passionately in the House of Commons on the government’s strategy and funding for international development. Anticipating that Boris Johnson’s time in office was limited, she called on the new administration to restore international aid to 0.7% of GDP. She criticised the new strategy for international development for being more concerned with promoting British trade than it is with alleviating poverty.

Moran spoke of her experiences as a child in Ethiopia, meeting children of her age who were emaciated, did not have clean water and were not able to go to school. “It is a success story of aid that many of those children down the line, and their children, would have had better prospects than perhaps the young children I met.” The aid budget in Ethiopia has been slashed from £325 million in 2020-21 to £30 million in 2024-25.

She said the crisis in Ukraine will lead to people dying and to further instability.

Extracts from Layla Moran’s speech:

If we are intent on helping people so that they do not have to flee and come to our shores as refugees, the best investment that we can make is to give money to partners abroad that can help them to have the best possible life where they want to be—in their cultures, in their homes, in those countries…

International development was a proud thing for this country to hang its hat on, which matched our proud reputation as a development superpower. If the Government were serious about global Britain—Great Britain—they would lean into that reputation…

Yet the international development strategy makes it clear how far we have already fallen.

This Government have made are wrecking our reputation [a habit], not just domestically, but internationally, too, whether that is the diplomatic service, the BBC World Service, the British Council, or, as has rightly been the focus of the debate today, the international development budget.

The Liberal Democrats are particularly proud that we brought forward the Bill that enshrined 0.7% in law, but it was a cross-party, settled matter among MPs across the whole House. It was in all our manifestos, and we collectively promised it. That promise to the British people was broken by this Government when they reneged on 0.7%, and shame on them… I hope therefore that the first act of the new incoming Administration might be to restore the aid budget immediately.

Today I want to focus on this Government’s current mishandling of the aid budget. The cut to the budget has hit and continues to hit those countries who need it most, including Ethiopia. The House may not know, but I lived in Ethiopia. We moved there when I was five, and we were there until I was eight. It was in the early ’80s, and people may remember the famine. We were there because my father had been given the job of economic adviser to the European mission out there, and my earliest memories of life at all are going with him to aid projects, where I would meet little children of my age who were emaciated, did not have clean water and were not able to go to school. It is a success story of aid that many of those children down the line, and their children, would have had better prospects than perhaps the young children I met.

In the context of the war in Ethiopia, the aid budget has been slashed from £325 million in 2020-21 to £30 million in 2024-25—less than a tenth. In Bangladesh, the budget will have halved from £200 million in 2020-21 to just £100 million in 2024-25. Those cuts are not a proud record of global leadership in international development; they are an international disgrace that is affecting the most vulnerable now more than ever.

Since the Government reneged on their promise, we have found ourselves with a war in Ukraine, which means that the 400 million people worldwide who rely on Ukrainian food supplies cannot get them. That ongoing military crisis—the blockade of ports, the destruction of agricultural machinery and the shells strewn across fields—is preventing grain from leaving what is rightly named the breadbasket of the world. That crisis will lead to people dying and to further instability.

I also lived in Egypt for a while; we moved there right after the revolution. The reason that the Arab spring happened was the price of tomatoes and bread. That kind of poverty and economic instability lead to political instability. To the points that have been made on both sides of the House I would say that if we are intent on helping people so that they do not have to flee and come to our shores as refugees, the best investment that we can make is to give money to partners abroad that can help them to have the best possible life where they want to be—in their cultures, in their homes, in those countries. Of course we want 0.7% to be restored, and the Ukraine crisis is why it should be restored now. In the light of that crisis, we need to step up to the plate—to the global catastrophe in front of us…

International development was a proud thing for this country to hang its hat on, which matched our proud reputation as a development superpower. If the Government were serious about global Britain—Great Britain—they would lean into that reputation. It had its own Department and Secretary of State with a dedicated seat at the Cabinet table and at the National Security Council. The United Kingdom is a centre for excellence for international development and we are home to institutions that deliver world-leading research and development technical expertise and project co-ordination.

Yet the international development strategy makes it clear how far we have already fallen. After reading it, it was interesting and instructive to do a little word search. If the point of international aid is to alleviate poverty—the Government’s stated aim—why was it mentioned only nine times? Investment, however, particularly linked to trade, was mentioned 48 times. That tells us everything that we need to know about the Government’s priorities.

When the Government announced their plan to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Members on both sides of the House joined forces with the sector to raise concerns about what that would mean for effectiveness. I am sorry to say that that fear has come true.

The strategy prioritises bilateral aid over multilateral aid. This is fundamentally counter to the liberal ideal of working within international structures to solve the world’s problems. It should be “and”, not “or”—not multilateral or bilateral, but both…

If we are serious about tackling poverty, inequality and vulnerability across the world, it is also essential that trade is distributed where it is most needed—not where it is most likely to benefit us; that is wrong. Trade is an important part of why we do aid, but it should never be the whole reason. Trade is important, of course, and so is aid, but tying one to the other, as is the direction of travel, is the wrong approach. I remain highly concerned by this Government’s approach, which may be leading us down a dark path towards tied aid.

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2 Comments

  • Suzanne Fletcher 11th Jul '22 - 9:51am

    No comments yet on this excellent article. Whilst the media has been, and still is focused on who put in a long delayed resignation letter, and now battling for which potential leader can cut most tax where they can, real crises are striking in our world where we cannot see, and do not hear about.
    I am going to post this on me FB page anyway.

  • Diana Simpson 11th Jul '22 - 10:10am

    Layla is absolutely right and, with global warming, the right approach to aid will become ever more imperative.

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