This post comes from Steve Lewis, RESULTS' Head of Global Health Advocacy.
Today the house of commons voted 146 to 5 to enshrine in law the Government's commitment to spending 0.7% of its gross national income on overseas aid and international development. I am delighted that the bill has passed its third reading and now passes to the House of Lords for further debate. All of us here in RESULTS look forward to the New Year when the bill will – hopefully - be finally approved and become legislation.
I say finally because the 0.7% target is not a new thing. The United Nations agreed in 1970 (44 years ago) that all nations would move towards this target. In the early 1980s I worked in Ecuador and saw the pain of families who had to choose between educating their children or feeding them. Even worse, in 1985 I sat in my bedsit in South London and watched the horrendous footage of the Ethiopian famine. In 1985, with thousands of others I joined the World Development Movement (WDM) lobby of parliament. Since then for thirty years the people of Britain have been asking for the UK Government to make good on their promise.
In the debate in parliament today only 6 MPs opposed the motion, saying the country does not support international aid. RESULTS supporters will remember the huge ‘Enough Food for Everyone If’ rally in Hyde Park last year to know that that is not true. Those with a longer memory will remember the peoples' march on Gleneagles in 2005, when there were so many young people marching to Scotland that the police implored Bob Geldorf to ask them to go home. The people of Great Britain have been staunch supporters of overseas aid for decades, recognising the injustice that those born here have a good standard of living, while those born in poverty in other countries can barely afford to eat or clothe their children.
I am proud of the perseverance of the UK churches and NGOs who for many years have been saying, ‘we don’t want charity for the world's poor, we want justice’. And this is what this bill will deliver. The 0.7% target is a UN approved target, and will provide sustainable and regular finance to countries as they develop.
For the UK to adopt this target is especially important for the example it gives to other countries, so that other countries also step up to the plate. Other countries reached this target some years ago, and some countries give 1% of GNI for aid (surpassing the target). But the UK is the first of the major industrial economies to have reached the 0.7% target. Now it just needs to be enshrined in law and it will be a major incentive for other countries to do the same.
British aid saves millions of lives every year. Making it law that we will meet the UN target will allow DFID to plan better for the long term, to ensure that aid is the most effective that it can possibly be. It will also allow more space for political discussions on tackling the root causes of poverty, and will show the UK's commitment to a more just and equitable world.
RESULTS calls on the Government to ensure that the bill is now discussed at the earliest opportunity in the House of Lords, to give it the best chance of becoming law before the general election next year.
When I stood in the cold outside parliament in 1985, with our banner requesting 0.7% legislation I did not imagine we would still be here 30 years later. But if we do achieve this bill into law in the new year I will still be proud of the people’s clamour that has finally been heard.