UK's long-standing aid commitment takes a step forward

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Photo by: altogetherfool / CC BY-SA

Aid groups have welcomed the decision of David Cameron’s administration to stick to its aid commitment this year, amid public and parliamentary pressure to cut foreign aid. The United Kingdom must now enshrine that commitment into law, and nongovernmental organizations will be pushing for the move’s inclusion in the queen’s speech in May.

In his budget speech on Wednesday (March 20), Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne reaffirmed his December 2012 announcement to meet the U.K. pledge of spending 0.7 percent of the country’s gross national income on aid this year, calling it an “historic achievement for our country.”

The decision sees the United Kingdom join the so-called ”0.7 percent club” — countries that have reached the U.N. aid target. At the moment, only Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands are fellow club members.

“This commitment shows Britain at its best, a nation with an Olympic spirit that champions helping others, [which] called to ‘Make Poverty History’ and to ‘Drop the Debt,’ and that continues to raise record amounts for Comic Relief,” said Oxfam’s director of campaigns Ben Phillips.

Almost all government departments have had to face budget cuts as part of the government’s austerity measures. The coalition government, however, has ring-fenced the U.K. Department for International Development’s budget, much to the satisfaction of U.K. NGOs and charities.

“Today, a 40-year-old promise to the world’s poorest was finally delivered. We congratulate the government for ensuring that, even in challenging economic times,” said Christian Aid director, Loretta Minghella.

For World Vision U.K. CEO Justine Byworth, “This government has demonstrated real leadership […] We understand that the U.K. is facing its own economic challenges, but in a world where one in eight children will go to bed hungry tonight, we must keep our own challenges in perspective.”

Foreign aid had been seen as vulnerable in austerity talks, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. This is evident in DfID’s increasing actions to prove and deliver value for money, in a move to justify its growing budget.

“We will be the first G8 country to keep our promise to the world’s poorest people,” said U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, in response to the announcement.

“International development is in our interests, not just because it creates new markets, but because it can deliver a more balanced, resilient global economy.”

With meager growth expected for 2013 and 2014, however, the United Kingdom is expected to spend 135 and 165 million pounds ($203.96 million and $249.3 million) less than the projected amounts of 11.30 billion pounds and 11.77 billion pounds respectively, in the coming two years.

“These are difficult times, both here and overseas, but committing a small portion of our national income, just 1.6 pence in every pound, is the right thing to do and is ultimately in our best interests,” said Bond chief executive Ben Jackson, adding that “recent polling shows that 84 percent of people aged 18-24 strongly support the aid budget.”

Meanwhile, Amy Dodd of the U.K. Aid Network said: “Reaching the 0.7% target, and sticking to it until these global challenges have been met, is something that this government and the last government can be proud of […] something which benefits us all.”

DfID works in 28 countries globally, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, and East and South Asia.

Plan U.K. CEO Tanya Barron noted: “The British people should be proud that by spending a relatively small amount they are achieving huge change.”

Indeed, Cliff Maunze, a development worker in Zimbabwe, noted that training programs funded by U.K. aid have given 100 farmers in the country “dignity and independence by proving to the participants what they can do with what surrounds them.”

The budget still needs to be confirmed by Parliament sometime in July. Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder writes the body ”normally approves the provision sought by the government,” but for NGOs the task is not yet complete.

“We’re told that legislation is ready and the government will do it ‘when there is parliamentary time,’ but obviously we would like to see this happen sooner rather than later,” Amy Dodd told Devex.

Glen Tarman, head of advocacy at Bond, tweeted: “We’ll still have to champion 0.7 percent, but I for one don’t want to have to campaign on it again. Time to enshrine target in law.”

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.