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I Don’t Just Believe in British Social Justice – I Believe in Universal Social Justice

29 October 2014

Will Martindale, Labour’s MP candidate for Battersea

As Battersea’s parliamentary candidate I am only too aware of the need to tackle tough social problems in Battersea: Since 2010, there have been seven shootings and a fatal stabbing in the estate behind Clapham Junction.

That this happens in one of the richest cities in the world, in our community, deeply angers all of us and I will do everything I can to help end youth gang violence.

But if we have problems at home why do I believe we have to support international development abroad? We don’t. It is a choice.

Imagine getting on the bus home in London one night from work. You sit down next to Mary, a heavily pregnant woman who starts telling you she’s expecting Alice, a beautiful baby girl, to arrive in two weeks’ time.

Suddenly she bursts into tears and tells you she can’t afford medical care for the birth. She begs you to pay for a midwife so she can deliver Alice safely. Now you are embarrassed. What would you do? Ask if she is British? Mary says she’s Rwandan. So do you reassure yourself that charity begins at home and refuse her the money? Mary is probably corrupt anyway.

One year later you see Mary again on the bus. There is no sign of Alice.

Of course it’s an absurd story. In January my wife Shalu gave birth to our beloved daughter Aurelie. It was the happiest day of my life. Amongst all the joy and emotion it never crossed my mind we might not be able to get medical assistance with the birth.

The story is absurd because every person in Britain, however poor, whatever their background, whatever they have done, has the National Health Service.

Every year one million children like Alice in developing countries die on the first day of their life. Most of them would have lived with basic medical care. But will throwing aid at the problem help? Yes.

I saw this myself when I volunteered in Rwanda helping families of genocide victims to access health care. Thanks in part to Labour’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, six million fewer children under the age of five died in 2012 than 1990. International aid may not be perfect, but it works. But it is still a choice.

Perhaps supporting international aid despite our problems at home says more about our values than anything else. I am proud British people chose to support international development in countries they may never have visited, for people they may have never met. I believe access to social justice should be determined not by nationality, but by need.

In our world the biggest determinant of a person’s success in life is the country of their birth. I dream my daughter Aurelie will see a world where her success is determined not by being born in a rich country, but by the content of her character.

For more on the work of Rwanda Aid, click here.

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