Opinion: Why the UK should keep its promises on international aid

The best use of aid for International Development has been a controversial topic recently, with rows over the need for aid to India spilling onto the front pages – many of them spectacularly ill-informed on both sides. That issue is complex – but at least you can rely on Liberal Democrats to think about it carefully. In 2010, I chaired a policy working group on international Development, which argued that the UK should focus on supporting good governance, sovereignty and accountability to the poor, so that countries could move away from aid dependency. As India has all of those, we argued that aid to India could stop now. However, with more people living below the poverty line in India than the whole of Africa, the counter-argument is also strong. In the end an amendment from House of Commons International Development Select Committee Chair Malcolm Bruce, calling for aid to continue for now, was supported by conference.

What all Liberal Democrats agreed on, though, was the importance of meeting the UK’s long-standing commitment to increase aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income. Debates about rising powers like India must never distract from the real need that continues to exist in many parts of the world – nor from the huge, immediate, beneficial impact that UK aid can have on people’s lives.

A report published yesterday by ONE, the anti-poverty campaigners, spells out for the first time the impact that the UK could have over the next four years if we maintain that commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid. By 2015, UK aid is expected to put 15.9 million children in school, provide over 80 million children with vaccines against life-threatening diseases – saving an estimated 1.4 million lives – and ensure 5.8 million births take place in a safe environment, saving the lives of over 50,000 mothers.

These results are truly staggering, and there are many more in the full report. Liberal Democrats should be proud to be part of a Government that will finally deliver on a forty year old promise. In tough economic times this is even more impressive and, as the research shows, by not cutting aid off to some of the poorest people in the world the UK will be changing lives for the better.

Aside from the moral argument, at times like this well-spent aid is good for Britain too. It helps create stability in fragile states and builds future markets for British companies. On Wednesday, when the Chancellor is expected to restate the trajectory to 0.7%, Liberal Democrats should celebrate

* David Hall-Matthews is Chair of the Social Liberal Forum

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  • Quite right. I liked this stat from their website (re. UK): “The amount of edible food thrown away each year is worth £12bn – still more than the entire aid budget will be after reaching 0.7%”.

  • we have promised to meet the 0.7% target in every manifesto, so now we are in Government we must keep the promise. It is a promise we can keep and, it will bring benefits to the Uk in the longer term by helping to develop markets with whom we shall be able to trade in the future.

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