Westminster Reflections: Sir Bernard Jenkin MP discusses the policy shift on how the UK uses international aid
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP discusses the policy shift on how the UK uses international aid
Many denizens of Westminster are aware that the Prime Minister does not frequently – compared to other world leaders at least – become a social media sensation. Over the summer however, dancing while visiting African nations, she managed to achieve just that. But while the media focus may have been elsewhere, what was sadly missed was a policy shift that will bring pragmatism and common sense to how the UK uses international aid.
In her speech in Cape Town, in addition to her aspiration to make the UK Africa’s largest G7 investor by 2022, she said that the government would also change its policy on international aid.
No longer would “our development spending… only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest.”
The UK is one of just a handful of countries that meet the UNs’ target of spending the equivalent of 0.7 per cent of GDP in international aid. In 2016, this was worth £13.4 billion, and was used to fund work in countries on four different continents.
It is impossible to overstate the effect that these policies have had on millions of lives around the world. Money earned by British taxpayers has been used since 2015 to immunise more than 37 million children, educate more than 11.5 million young people and to give tens of millions access to clean water.
International development is a vital part of the UK’s foreign policy – simultaneously ensuring that millions of aid recipients’ first encounters with this country are positive and also raising our international reputation.
But distributing these resources across the world is more than just an act of charity. It is part of the moral responsibility that the UK has as a wealthy country: helping those less fortunate than ourselves. This philosophy is a steadfastly Conservative one. It dates back to Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who wrote in the nineteenth century of the gap between the rich and the poor, arguing that having means gives you a responsibility to do something with them.
The UK is also in a particularly resonant cultural position. Many of the states to which we distribute aid have ties to this country due to their relationship with the Commonwealth. More than just moral duty, shared history binds us together.
I am solidly of the view that it is right for the UK to contribute as it does to international development. However, it is undeniable that some schemes are blighted by waste, mismanagement and corruption.
The current Secretary of State for the department, Penny Mordaunt, is alive to this criticism. In a speech in April this year, she laudably stated that, under her stewardship, the focus of the department would be “about what we’re doing, not just what we’re spending.”
The UK correctly lives up to the responsibilities that it has on the international development plane. But to paraphrase the Secretary of State, the standard should not be “does our aid do good?”, but “does our aid do the most good possible?”
That is why I support this change. Spending our money to educate impoverished children is good, but investing in developing economies to enable them to educate their own children is even better. And investing carefully to allow countries to raise their own citizens out of poverty altogether is better still.
The Prime Minister described this change as “a fundamental strategic shift in the way we use our aid programme, putting development at the heart of our international agenda – not only protecting and supporting the most vulnerable people but bolstering states under threat, shaping a global economy that works for everyone, and building co-operation across the world in support of the rules-based system.”
The long-term consequences of this change will be positive for the UK. We will spend aid money to tackle corruption and organised crime, use the UK’s financial services acumen, and work with law enforcement will help these countries to fight the instability that is so often associated with impoverishment. The process of helping these states become less volatile and more prosperous will open up opportunities for British and other companies and investors.
Capitalism is the means which have delivered the greatest rise of living standards and equality in human history. It works in poor countries too, just as it has worked in richer ones. The best way for the UK to assist the development of other countries is not simply to focus on delivering care and supplies to the worst off.
Retargeting international aid to strengthen institutions in poorer countries is a lasting way to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable without making them dependent on the British taxpayer. If done correctly, it will be more than just a fulfilment of our moral responsibilities: it will be in the national and global interest too.