UK legislative commitment to 0.7% of GNI

Mark-Hendrick-MPBy Mark Hendrick, Labour MP for Preston. 

The views and opinions of guest bloggers do not necessarily represent the views of Development Initiatives.

Labour MP Mark Hendrick is introducing a Private Members’ Bill to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA). The Bill will have its second reading on Friday 1 March 2013. He tells us why…

We could be the generation to end poverty. For many people that statement seems unbelievable, at least in part, because we’ve heard it before. The progress that we have seen in the last 13 years, since the millennium, has been impressive, not least in halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. But there is still much to do.

In this year’s budget, the UK is due to hit the 0.7% of GNI target for official development assistance funding. It’s a proud moment as we’re only the sixth country to do so and one of the few that still looks set to do so before the 2015 deadline European Union member states reaffirmed in 2012. We’ll also be the largest donor in absolute terms to meet the target and, in these much more difficult times, that is something to be proud of.

Proud to help

Proud to help those who are too often victims of circumstances and problems outside their control. Proud to help by providing that bit of support that can be crucial to climbing out of poverty, creating opportunities and a more inclusive and equal global society. Proud that good aid can save lives, creating the conditions for economic growth and helping to secure peace and good governance in some of the poorest, most challenging places in the world. In just one year under Labour, the Department for International Development helped train over 100,000 teachers, delivered almost 7 million bed-nets, provided 12.5 million people with better sanitation and helped build or upgrade 4,500 km of road amongst many other activities and programmes. UK aid saves lives and gives people the chance of a better future.

But this is only possible if we live up to our commitments – both on the quantity of aid and its quality. The £11.8 billion we will spend on aid next calendar year to help millions of people around the world is a relatively little drop in a pretty big pond. It’s just 1.6 pence in every pound the government spends.

Why the UK needs the Bill

On 1 March, Parliament considers my Private Members’ Bill that would turn this commitment into law. But given that we are due to meet 0.7% anyway and all the signs are that the government will live up to this commitment, why do we need it?

When you look at the history, the reasons become clear.  If the UK hits the target this year, it will have been 40 years since we first committed to doing so. Most donors still haven’t and one that has, the Netherlands, is talking about cutting aid back below 0.7% this year, so something to make the UK commitment stick is very important. The Bill would make sure that the UK continues to live up to its commitments for as long as it is needed.

And perhaps more importantly, at a time when international commitment to aid and development seems to be sliding, it shows the rest of the world that Britain is serious about tackling global problems like poverty and development. It isn’t unusual in the UK to enshrine such international commitments in law – the Child Poverty Bill being just one recent example.

A chance to be global leaders

Pushing this particular Bill through parliament could be hard. The intricacies of parliamentary process mean it may not progress much further before this parliamentary session comes to a close – but passing it by even one stage is still an important step and one that could give the Government more of a mandate to push it through in the next session of Parliament.

The UK has a long history as global leaders in development. This is a chance to build on that history and, particularly with the G8 in the UK this year, maybe encourage others to follow our example.

The debate has now been adjourned until 26 April 2013. A UK Aid Network briefing is also available on this topic. The progress of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill 2013–14 can be followed here