Charities plead with government not to delay law on foreign aid commitment

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 06 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e919
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

Experts working to reduce health inequalities around the world have urged the government not to drop plans for a new law to guarantee the United Kingdom’s level of spending on overseas aid.

Anna-Joy Rickard, director of the Humanitarian Centre, a network of organisations that work to reduce global poverty and inequality, told the BMJ, “We are disappointed the government has delayed their commitment to legislate this in parliament, which would have cemented the UK as a leading force against global poverty.

“We join with other non-governmental organisations calling for the government to stick to the timetable they promised.”

The Conservative party made a pre-election pledge to legislate early in government to commit 0.7% of the UK’s national income in foreign aid.

The coalition government has since indicated that a new law would be enacted before the current parliamentary session ends in April.

But this week Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, indicated that the government would not be tabling legislation on foreign aid just now. He said that it would not be popular with the public, with legislation awaited on the UK economy, and that there was now not enough time to table a bill in this parliamentary session.

“We have signed off on the Bill, and it’s now with the business managers. They will proceed with it when there is parliamentary time,” he told the Sun newspaper.

His comments have led to concerns that the government may now be diluting or moving away from its undertaking to make the foreign aid commitment a matter of law.

The idea of moving away from the commitment or scrapping overseas aid altogether has been backed by some Conservative MPs. Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, has urged ministers to abandon the “vanity project” of pursuing a target to hand out 0.7% of the UK’s national income in aid, while Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, West Yorkshire, has called for the aid programme to be cancelled.

In addition, India’s finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was reported saying that India should reject British aid because it is a “peanut” in the country’s total development spending and that there have been concerns that the aid promotes a negative image of India.

But charities and campaigners for aid have rejected these points. Christian Aid’s senior political adviser, Sol Oyuela, said that the UK was a leader in international development and that it was right to ringfence the aid budget.

She said, “Maintaining the pledge to legislate during this difficult economic period will send a powerful signal for other countries to follow that any economic recovery will not be built on the backs of the world’s poor.”

“In addition, predictability is a key factor in making aid effective. Aid is notoriously unpredictable, with commitments made and then not met. Legislation will combat this.”

Rachel Lander, policy and advocacy manager on global health for Interact Worldwide, told the BMJ, “If the 0.7% commitment is not enshrined in law, history tells us that it will most likely not be met, and the consequences for the world’s most vulnerable people are grave. We know already that the [United Nations’] millennium development goals will most likely not be met, and insufficient funding is a big reason for this.”

She added, “Committing the 0.7% contribution to aid in legislation is a promise to taxpayers that this money will achieve results and impact: long term predictability and protection of aid is key to development effectiveness. The legislation will also establish global cooperation and leadership as part of the fabric of the UK’s character.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e919

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