Recently the UK passed a bill which enshrines in law their commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid every year, a target first reached by the UK last year. The UN established the target in 1970 but only five other countries – Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates – have met the target to date. The UK is the first G7 country to meet the target, spending £11.3 billion in 2014 on international aid. Alongside the financial commitment, the International Development bill, expected to come into force on 1st June 2015, also calls for independent evaluation and monitoring of money spent on aid.
Although the 0.7% spending target was part of each major political parties’ manifesto in 2010, the bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat ex-cabinet minister Michael Moore, sought to transform the pledge to a legal requirement. In December 2014 a vote to allow the bill to continue being scrutinised was won 146 to 6 despite opponents making the case that it may give the impression that no more was needed to tackle global poverty. Other opponents criticised the bill for “shackling future governments” to a level of spending despite other budgets being unprotected and the UK economy being far from sturdy.
The bill has been the cause for much celebration amongst the NGOs campaigning for its creation and passing, not only securing much needed aid for developing countries over the long-term but perhaps incentivising wealthier countries to follow suit. This doesn’t mean such NGOs will be resting on their laurels, now the challenge is to ensure that the has impact, is effective and transformative, and gets to those who need it most. They are also hopeful that this might mean the UK will play a leading role in other global challenges such as climate change.
Oxfam, in a blog post, described the law as historic and as proof of the power of people, in particular those people active under the Make Poverty History, Turn Up Save Lives and the IF campaign. By providing guaranteed aid over the long-term, recipients, in turn, can make long-term investments in education, health and development. “And it shows that when we act together, we can achieve incredible things.”
Although the debate over the effectiveness of aid at tackling poverty continues there is evidence of its benefits – in playing a large role in the near-eradication of polio and in halving of the number of children dying before the age of 5. UK investment in vaccines currently saves a child’s life every 2 minutes.
The UK’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, said: “Tackling poverty overseas is about addressing the root causes of global challenges such as disease, migration, terrorism and climate change, all of which are the right things to do and firmly in Britain’s own national interest.”
Despite upcoming elections, and the animosity they bring, and mass distrust in our politicians, it is heartening to know that on the important issues, the ones that can make life better for millions of people, our politicians can put aside their differences and do the right thing. If patriotism weren’t so utterly un-British, it would almost make you proud.