I have been contacted by many constituents recently regarding the UK Government's commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) each year on Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the related Tearfund campaign. I strongly support the campaign, not least because of my previous experience as a cabinet minister.
During my time as Secretary of State for International Development, the UK Government led the world in the campaign to cancel debt for the poorest countries and secure commitments to increase aid. As you will know, we have seen real progress since then with more children going to primary school and fewer children dying needlessly.
The 0.7% target was established as a UN development spending goal in 1970, and since 2002, successive British governments have committed to spending 0.7% of national income on development and aid.
The previous Labour Government had a proud record of leadership on international development, having led the world to agree the Millennium Development Goals and tripled the aid budget, helping to lift 3 million people out of poverty each year and get 40 million more children into school.
As you may be aware, the UK became the first G7 country to enshrine the 0.7% target in law and the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 received cross-party support during the last Parliament.
From 2010-15, British aid supported 11 million children through school, bought 47 million bed nets (which have contributed to malaria deaths falling by 60% over the last 15 years) and supported over 60 million people to access clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions. It is clear that British aid saves and changes lives and I believe it is right that we help the millions of people around the world who are in need.
Spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid is morally right and a long standing British tradition. Development Aid assistance helps save the lives of some of the world's poorest people in times of humanitarian emergency, and progresses social development as well as economic growth. I therefore agree with you that we must stand firmly behind the achievement of the 0.7% commitment. However, we must defend its correct use to improve the lives of millions around the world.
I am concerned that the current Government is looking for ways to divert the international development budget to other uses, rather than solely for international development. For example, I believe that the Government's Aid Strategy (published in 2015) shows that it is deprioritising its legal duty to spend aid on poverty reduction and is instead prioritising the promotion of British financial and security interests, at the expense of the world's poor. A genuine international development budget should prioritise sustainable economic development and help tackle the crises that prevent it, such as HIV/AIDs and other diseases, climate change and the continuing refugee crisis. In addition, a genuine development budget would benefit the rest of the world and thereby also boost British prosperity.
As you know, Parliament will debate these important issues on 13 June 2016. We will defend the 0.7% commitment and hold the Government to account on development and press for the correct use of the international aid budget.
MP for Leeds Central