For some, this year’s budget is being seen as an opportunity to cut “non essential expenditure”. These people have seen the call for action on domestic issues, such as housing or healthcare, and conclude that if the Chancellor is to act in these areas, he must do less elsewhere.
Some of this group are calling for a cut in the aid budget. They see it as an easy target, because they assume that by reducing our aid expenditure, we will free up money to spend on our public services.
This, I believe, is a very short sighted view.
Where they see an opportunity to reduce the help we give other countries in the world, I see a huge risk which would diminish our nation’s standing on the global stage. Few parts of this government’s budget are as important for demonstrating British values to the world as UK Aid.
My work at Unicef informs this view: I have seen the lifesaving development work that is achieved with UK aid, and it has convinced me of its value.
Luckily, I don’t believe the Chancellor is interested in the arguments to end our promise to the world that UK Aid provides. He sees the danger we face – climate change, terrorism, the refugee crisis, pandemics, natural disasters, conflict. The list goes on. He knows we cannot just be a passive participants in finding solutions to these problems, we must be active in solving them.
I am also sure that he sees the money we spend on pulling the poorest and most vulnerable out of poverty as not only a moral contribution, but an exercise in good economics. If we are to trade with the whole world, we need a world able to trade with us, and as the majority of what we export is high end products and services, we need a world that can buy what we sell. Helping nations develop their economies creates markets with which we can trade – something we will need in post Brexit Britain.
My experience has also shown that the nations seen to be the best trading partners by rapidly developing nations are often the ones that helped them develop in the first place – and our aid contribution puts Britain firmly at the front of that queue.
A mark of the Conservative Party’s acute awareness and dedication to this opinion is its promise to give 0.7 per cent of the UK’s income to the world’s poorest. Thanks to UK Aid, organisations like my own, UNICEF, are able to give children a future both in the UK and overseas.
UK Aid educates billions of children, beats Ebola, fosters peace and security and gives people a chance to stand independently on their own two feet. Since 1990 UK Aid has helped lift over one billion people out of extreme poverty and, thanks to the generosity of the British people, organisations like mine are working around the clock to reach the other 1.2 billion. The challenge remains vast, but so do our achievements.
Crucially, UK Aid is far from transient: it builds infrastructure and systems in fragile states, and turns them into stable states. It supports education in refugee camps, and turns today’s refugee child into tomorrow’s entrepreneur. It undermines and breaks the networks of traffickers and criminal gangs thriving on others misfortune. As a result, recipient countries become our trade partners and our allies.
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UK Aid speaks volumes about our values. Those who support it want the UK to remain a power in the world, shaping every nation and able to help every child. I believe the Chancellor is one of these people.
Mike Penrose is Executive Director of Unicef