On Wednesday 5th December, against a backdrop of prolonged austerity, Chancellor George Osborne MP presented the UK government’s Autumn Statement. The bleak economic outlook across the Eurozone heightened apprehension, with lower-than-expected growth figures and the battle to reduce public debts plaguing critics’ minds.
The statement did, however, provide positive news for International Development. The government reaffirmed its much-needed contribution to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance, adding pressure on other donor countries to meet this 40-year old UN commitment.
It should be noted that the 0.7% target is not an arbitrary figure, but has been in use since the 1970s, and found in 2002 by the United Nations Millennium Project to be the level required from all rich nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) by 2015. As such, the Autumn Statement marks the first time in history the UK will have met this 40-year old promise.
Meeting the 0.7% target will secure the UK’s foreign aid budget and crucially means that the Department for International Development (DfID) will have the resources to continue its important work in social advancement across the globe. This is extremely good news both globally and nationally for a number of reasons:
Firstly, it fuels momentum towards the achievement of the MDGs by 2015- for example the charity Save the Children, in a recent report, indicated that UK development assistance has drastically helped to reduced child mortality, with the number of deaths of under-fives falling from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. Our aid has also contributed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, helping to save at least 4,000 lives every day, and has saved an estimated 7.7 million lives in 150 countries.
Secondly, improved funding for DfID is also of extreme importance in the fight to finally eradicate polio. In the last 20 years polio cases have been reduced by 99%, from 123 endemic countries to just 3. However, with an almost $1bn shortfall in funding for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (the public-private partnership which leads eradication efforts) without securing development assistance from donor countries, there is a serious risk that polio may continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.
In addition to these clear moral reasons to improve the livelihoods of the 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty, there are also strategic benefits from the increase in the UK’s overseas development commitment. By investing in developing structurally stronger, healthier and more productive economies abroad, we simultaneously improve the UK’s ability to engage with these nations in international trade.
This is increasingly important given that the proportion of total exports fell to the EU, in the three months to May 2012 to 49.6%, whilst there was a growth of non-EU exports to 50.4%. Moreover, a recent Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) report predicted UK export growth over the next five years of 30% to Asia, over 40% to Latin America and at least 60% to Africa.
Aside from these intrinsic benefits, perhaps what this year’s Autumn Statement has most lucidly shown is that collective political action can yield tangible change.
Despite the austerity we continue to face in the UK, it is a testament to the work of the Global Poverty Project and the commitment shown by our Ambassadors on the ‘Protecting 0.7’ campaign, as well as other organisations, that has resulted in the UK government committing to raise its overseas development contribution to 0.7%.
Of course there is still much to be done. Whilst today we have honoured a 40-year old promise to those most vulnerable, tomorrow our work resumes- advocating, campaigning and working towards a vision for a global society without extreme suffering.
Sameer Gulati is an intern at the Global Poverty Project.