Growing the Aid Budget at a time of deficit reduction: moral imperative and political challenge

Ahead of Rt Hon Harriet Harman’s speech to the LSE tonight, here are some key excerpts of the speech. The speech will be at 6.30pm at the Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, tickets free.

A Fragile Commitment

While the Liberal party, and the SDP and then the Lib Dems, supported the 0.7%, the Tories support wavered. Our commitment appeared in every single manifesto since 1970, the Conservative Party cannot say the same. It was only later, in 2005, they followed our pledge, by signing up to the 2013 deadline which was then in their 2010 general election manifesto. And the coalition agreement then reiterated the pledge along with a commitment to legislate to make it a binding legal obligation on government.

So while this is a longstanding firm commitment for us, it is a much weaker commitment for the Tory party and one which they are taking forward at the same time as they are embarking on a programme of public spending cuts which aim to see the deficit eliminated by 2015 and in which they are making each unprotected government department cut on average 19%.

Indeed even before they got into government and before the scale of their deficit reduction had become clear, a poll showed that 96% of top Tory candidates in the General Election thought the aid budget should not even be protected, let alone increased.  70% of Tory party members surveyed described the rise in the aid budget as “the wrong decision”.  That hostility is reinforced by campaigns and editorials in Tory-supporting newspapers.  “No time for posturing on international development” says the Daily Mail.    The Sun says the Tory aid pledge is “ill-conceived, gesture politics”

With the Tory Party commitment to the 0.7% being fragile , with the opposition from within their own ranks so virulent, with growing public anger about the effect of the cuts on domestic priorities,  alongside a strong public belief that “charity begins at home”, no-one should take it for granted that the Tories will inevitably deliver on their pledge.  The fact that the two parties of the coalition government and the official opposition all agree on this target should not lull anyone into a false sense of security that its achievement is a foregone conclusion.

So, we cannot simply wait for the pledge to be honoured, we must remake our arguments for it.  It is time for “a Keep the 0.7% / 2013 promise” campaign. We are launching it very soon.  I am sure that we can look to young people, the churches, the aid agencies and our diaspora communities to support such a campaign – as they did so much to campaign for the original promise and so strongly backed the actions our government took to increase aid and drop debt.

Tackling Global Inequality

Above all, development aid that alleviates poverty is a vital part of moving towards global equality and tackling the unacceptable inequality which lies between and within countries. Global inequality threatens economic and social stability – as was pointed out by the IMF’s managing director and the World Economic Forum in Davos which cited inequality as one of their top five issues for 2011.

Government has frozen aid budget for 2 years

Despite the government’s commitment to UK aid reaching 0.7% of GNI by 2013, the Spending Review Statement of last October froze the aid budget as a percentage of GNI for the next 2 years.

The cost of this 2 year freeze – instead of continuing the upward trend we established – is £2.2 billion which would otherwise have been available in development aid.

The loss of this aid is not insignificant, for example that amount would pay for:

–       50 million children to be vaccinated –helping to protecting them from five diseases including diphtheria

–       200 million mosquito nets which could help save the lives of over half a million children

–       The treatment of all children with pneumonia in the world’s poorest countries which could save 600,000 children’s lives a year.

–       Helping 8 million school children in Africa

It really would make a huge difference.

Abandoning the steady progress towards the 2013 target, instead of building on the progress that was made when we were in government will require a big jump in the aid budget in 2 years time.  Following the 2 year aid freeze, to meet their promised target by 2013, they will need to boost the aid budget by 31% in a single year –   an increase of approximately £3billion – in 2013.

The importance of legislation

It is all the more important, therefore, that the government introduce legislation for a legally binding obligation of 0.7% by 2013 – as they promised.  The Bill to enact this was drafted when we were in government and has been through pre-legislative scrutiny.  The government have a long parliamentary session to bring in this short, but important, Bill which has all party agreement.  Bringing in this legislation would provide reassurance and put beyond doubt that the 0.7% /2013 promise will be delivered.  By the same token, the government’s failure to bring it forwards only fuels concern they want to leave open the option to fall short of the 0.7% and the 31% budget increase that it will require.

The aid agencies, churches and the diaspora communities are all calling for the introduction of the Bill and we are backing them in that demand.  If the Government fails to bring it forward in this parliamentary session it will no doubt be the most obvious choice for a Private Members Bill to be brought forward by a backbencher at the start of the next session.

Posted in: Aid

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