Thank you to Richard, Cameron, Sabah and Peter for sharing your reflections, and to Karen for the quote used in the blog title.
Let’s start this blog in 1970, the year countries made a commitment at the United Nations that meant ‘economically advanced countries’ would move towards the target of spending 0.7% of their national income on Official Development Assistance (ODA, commonly known as aid). Over 45 years, this commitment was repeatedly re-endorsed and agreed to by the UK, and supported and advocated for by many campaigners across the country. Fast forward to 2015 and the UK enshrined this commitment in law with the ‘International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act’, placing a duty on the Secretary of State for International Development to ensure that the 0.7% target was met by the UK every year. This was a huge achievement, and shortly after the Act was passed, our action materials in April 2015 started with the words “Development campaigners in the UK last month received possibly the most exciting news for the past 45 years”.
But it wasn’t long before RESULTS advocates, alongside many others, were advocating for the 0.7% target to be kept. In November 2020, just 5 years after the Act was first passed, the Government announced that it planned to cut UK spending on ODA to 0.5% of GNI, reducing the 2021 budget by around £4.5 billion (30%) compared with 2019. RESULTS UK first took action on this in November 2020 and again in February 2021 by writing to and talking with their MPs, but it didn’t stop there. We’ve seen our Grassroots groups jump to action to oppose the cuts; calling on friends and family to get involved, writing blogs sharing why the fight to Save UK aid is so important, and spreading the word on social media alongside MP engagement. From February, it was a bit of a whirlwind of a campaign made harder by a lack of Government transparency on what was to be cut and what parliamentary process would be followed, culminating in a vote that was called with just one day's notice. The vote was on a motion that set the terms of the ‘fiscal criteria’ that needs to be met for the UK to spend 0.7% of our national income on ODA - essentially setting this bar so high that the UK may never again fulfil its promise - and it passed.
The impact of the vote and the funding cut is hard to fathom when it will undoubtedly lead to millions of people unable to access education and essential health services. Whilst the vote showed the true colours of this Government, the campaign also showed the true colours of dedicated, passionate and resilient campaigners.
We asked RESULTS advocates for their reflections on the campaign:
“I'm devastated. I remember the joy and pride that I felt when 0.7% was adopted. Now I'm left feeling like we've abandoned people who are in desperate need. The campaign to save 0.7% brought together so many different groups all united around this one cause. In Birmingham we were able to draw on our wider networks to contact key MPs and the level of support from friends and even friends of friends was so great to see. Even though we failed to stop the reduction in the aid budget, I think we helped to spread the word about the amazing impact that UK Aid has.”
- Richard, Birmingham
“As constituents in Bury South, we wholeheartedly believed our MP might rebel against the cut. Our relationship with Christian Wakeford MP started back in the summer of 2020 - before we knew the full extent of the Government’s assault on development - when three RESULTS Manchester members in Bury South met with Christian Wakeford MP to express our support for UK aid and parliamentary scrutiny. Since then, over six months of campaigning and we have received many positive responses. Publicly, despite supporting the FCO and DFID merger, he had been a vocal defender of UK aid and of keeping our promises, both in Conservative Home and in Parliament, telling the House of Commons: 'That is something I want to stick up for. I want to go home and be able to tell my daughter that I did the right thing.' It seemed to us that he would continue to stand up, speak out and stay committed. I was shocked then to not see his name appear on the list of Tory rebels. Frankly, I was confused by the mismatch between rhetoric and action – a broken personal and election promise. Ultimately, he voted for the Government motion whilst also maintaining he is committed to a return to 0.7%. Despite all the effort we put in to influencing and then supporting his public stance, it has underlined that MPs are representatives, not delegates. They use their own judgement and can be swayed by forces beyond our control. I just hope Christian will continue to publicly speak out for UK aid.”
- Cameron, Manchester
“This campaign was my first one with RESULTS UK and naturally, I am disappointed by the outcome that the UK will not commit to spending 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid for the foreseeable future. Campaigning on this issue has been really important, especially as the pandemic has had a detrimental effect on health systems in both high and low-income nations. I am also angry that the UK Government has continued to argue for this on economic grounds while wasting billions in taxpayer’s money on questionable contracts during the last 18 months. I really enjoyed building a relationship with my MP, who has continued to support this campaign and it has always been positive; my MP kept reassuring me they would continue to argue against the cuts, while providing detailed arguments for doing so, which I was impressed with. Although it’s not the result we wanted, I look forward to continuing the campaign to restore the aid budget, for the sake of the world’s most vulnerable. I hope one day the 0.7% will be reinstated or even increased!”
- Sabah, London
“I've been a campaigner since the '80s and have frequently lobbied our MPs, Ministers, The World Bank, the IMF, foreign governments, on all aspects of ending hunger. A common feature of the feedback I/we have got from many of the global NGOs is how much respect the UK has earnt for its standards and level of financial and managerial support for the ending of hunger through our international aid programme. There is plentiful authentic data showing the effectiveness and efficiency of our programmes. Dropping such a huge fraction of that program is a disaster for all those lives that will be seriously affected or even lost that would otherwise have benefited. The Government has wasted many times the money on other projects that they hope to save by these cuts, effectively spending people's lives overseas to bail out their own domestic inefficiency. I have lost the same proportion of respect for our Government by the amount it has cut our proportion of overseas aid. That will doubtless also reduce the respect with which other governments formerly held for us, and will deeply wound the global response to hunger and poverty by the example it has set.. It is a disaster of terrible dimensions.”
- Peter, Stort Valley
The fight to save UK aid has not ended with this vote. In the spirit of campaigning, we will let the dust settle and sit with the shock and disappointment for a while, then dust ourselves off and keep going. Some campaigners have already written to their MPs to thank them for their support or to express their disappointment. The RESULTS Cheshire group have written a compelling public response to their MP, challenging him on some of the statements made about ODA in his previous replies to their letters. Over time, we hope to keep up the public support for ODA and one day see a return to 0.7%. But our immediate priority is to ensure the remaining budget is spent well and commitments to life-saving organisations are kept, especially in light of the Government’s upcoming Spending Review in Autumn. And this is exactly what we are turning to in our August monthly action. The context in which we are campaigning this year has been, and still is, fraught with obstacles, from the COVID-19 pandemic to challenging Government decisions and attitudes. It’s not an easy time and a big thank you is very much owed to our Grassroots network. In the spirit of the theme of our National Conference in September, we will continue to take a stance and find chances for change.