Why is the 0.7% figure so important?
Prior to the Mail on Sunday’s political campaign, the International Development Bill was hailed as a historic breakthrough. The UK became the first major economy to enshrine in law the 1970 United Nations General Assembly resolution for countries to commit 0.7% of their national income to aid. This commits the government to spend 7p out of every £10 of taxpayers’ money on aid. To date, only seven countries have ever met this target: Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Of these, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and Denmark have consistently exceeded the target.
In my opinion, the 0.7% aid target is both realistic and achievable. If anything the UK can donate more: Sweden, Norway and UAE’s 2015 aid contribution exceeded 1% of their gross national income (GNI). Moreover, I am not alone in this assumption: a 2012 poll of British adults reported that six in ten people believe spending 0.7% of GNI on aid is either just about right or too low.
The 0.7% target is vital to achieve the herculean goal of eradicating extreme poverty and fostering sustainable development. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the predecessor to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), made great strides in global poverty reductions. Notably, the first MDG – to halve the 1990 poverty rate by 2015 – was realised five years ahead of schedule. However, according to the World Bank, that still left 896 million people (that’s one in eight people in the world) living on less than $1.90 a day in 2012 – a figure for those living in extreme poverty that remains unacceptably high.
The convergence of the 0.7 target and the Sustainable Development Goals is an important one. The UN Millennium Project’s Investing in development: A practical plan to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, published in 2005, makes a passionate plea for the 0.7% aid target, stating:
“Ours is the first generation in which the world can halve extreme poverty within the 0.7 percent envelope. In 1975, when the donor world economy was around half its current size, the Goals would have required much more than 1 percent of GNP from the donors. Today, after two and a half decades of sustained economic growth in developed countries, the Goals are utterly affordable. No new promises are needed—only a follow-through on commitments already made”.
Overall, the SDG goals are achievable, but only with the help of the 0.7% aid target.
Charity starts at home, but does not end there
For all those critics who argue that ‘charity should start at home’, well must it end there too? The UK is the 6th richest country in the world, and has the economic might and political clout to make a tangible difference to lives of the millions of people living in extreme hardship. The UK is in the unique position of being able to tackle poverty at home and abroad.
Furthermore, the wellbeing of the world directly affects the UK – the Syrian conflict, for example, has transcended its international borders and penetrated into the European heartlands with the refugee crisis.
In fact, CARE’s very roots lie in delivering ‘foreign aid’ to the UK and Europe. After World War II, Europe was on its knees. Food was in short supply and severe rationing continued for almost a decade. CARE International was set up after World War II to send packages of food and other essential supplies – ‘CARE packages’ – from people in the USA to people in Europe, including many thousands of families across the UK.
Europe not only recovered but was able to thrive, thanks in part to the CARE packages sent from US citizens to those in need after WWII. In today’s globalised and interconnected world, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, climate change mitigation, disease outbreaks, poverty reduction, gender equality, sustainable development are all global issues that require collective responses.
We must return to the basics: why do we donate to charity? why does the UK provide aid to developing countries? Fundamentally, aid is there to help vulnerable people in need. It may be used to provide refugees and internally displaced people with shelter and food. It could be used to provide rural, poor, and marginalised communities with business and financial skills to help them become economically self-sufficient. It might be utilised to rebuild towns devastated by natural disasters. The bottom line is that aid transforms people’s lives for the better.
Distorted picture of aid
The Mail on Sunday paints a distorted image of international aid – one where taxpayers’ money is recklessly squandered and ultimately lines the pockets of corrupt politicians, middlemen and terrorists. Contrary to the Mail’s assertions, emergency relief is anchored to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, while all aid must conform to strict rules to prevent it being used wastefully. Aid work can get messy and the situation on the ground may call for compromises, but there are number safeguards in place – such as audits, watchdogs, security vetting, due diligence, risk management, etc. – to minimise risk factors and ensure that aid reaches the intended beneficiaries. The UK’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) also funds military aid, peacekeeping, nuclear energy as along as it is for civilian purposes, and cultural programmes.
0.7% is a strength not a weakness
The UK becoming the first nation to enshrine the 0.7% aid target in legislation is a true watershed moment in the history of international development, and solidifies our commitment to the realisation of the SDG goals. By no means does the 0.7% aid commitment turn the UK into a soft touch. As Justine Greening, the UK’s international development secretary, eloquently states, the International Development Bill “cements Britain’s global leadership in creating a world that is healthier, more stable and increasingly prosperous… 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.” Additionally, the 0.7% aid target featured in the recent Queen’s speech in which she highlights the moral argument, stating “0.7%... is both a powerful demonstration of the UK’s moral commitment to helping the world’s most vulnerable, and also firmly in the UK’s national interest”.