Next Friday, parliament will debate a bill that will enshrine in law a requirement for governments to commit 0.7 per cent of national income to overseas development, fulfilling an internationally-agreed UN target. This was a commitment that was in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos at the last election, but where the government has dragged its feet, leaving it up to an individual MP to bring in the bill.
I know that development and aid spending makes many people a little uneasy. Why should we be sending sums of this sort overseas when we face massive budget constraints here at home? I would argue that there are two different reasons why we are right to make this modest (in government spending terms) commitment.
Firstly, because as a rich nation, we should not walk by on the other side when we can do a little to help tackle crippling poverty, hunger, and disease.
Secondly, because we all benefit from a world where poverty reduction lessens conflicts and global tensions, or creates new markets for mutually-beneficial trade. Putting my cards on the table – I will support the bill to make 0.7 per cent legally binding, because the task of lifting the billion people who live in extreme poverty, and the more than two billion who live on less than $2 (£1.20) a day is too daunting for us to shirk our responsibility – but I also hope that I will see, in my political lifetime, a time when the world can agree that the 0.7 per cent target can be relaxed, because we are winning the battle.
The key to getting people across the developing world out of poverty is through trade – conducted equitably and fairly, creating jobs and sustainable livelihoods. Our development efforts must be focussed towards breaking down the barriers that prevent that from happening. That means investing in infrastructure that helps kick-start economies and get goods to market, but also supporting unglamorous things that we take for granted, like helping fragile states set up a tax collection regime, so that they can harness revenues from their economy to pay for schools, hospitals and social care. And we must work to support initiatives that ensure workers are paid a decent wage for their work and are employed under safe and fair conditions.
These are the building blocks for finally eradicating global poverty and bringing closer the day when we won’t need a development budget of our own. As a shadow international development minister, I couldn’t be more convinced of the importance of the job I have – nor could I be more convinced that my long-term aim, should I one day be lucky enough to hold that job in government, is to make myself redundant.
By Alison McGovern MP for Wirral News