Andrew Mitchell is an MP in Britain, and served as the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development from 2010 to 2012
In a world news agenda dominated by doom and gloom, the news from Canada seems to be providing some much needed relief. Here is a country that has pledged to turn outward, and to increase its engagement with the world, at a time when so many others are pulling up the proverbial drawbridge.
As a former UK minister for international development, I’ve watched with interest as Canada launched the most substantive review of its foreign aid program in 20 years. Like Britain, Canada understands that its aid and international development budget is a tiny part of overall government spending but a crucial part of how it engages with the world.
Through the wide public consultation Canada has undertaken to shape the next phase of its international aid strategy, it’s clear that Canada is asking the right questions to ensure that the Canadian taxpayer gets the best possible return on its aid budget.
From my time travelling and representing the British government, I know that our aid budget is unquestionably in Britain’s national interest. Above all, it is an investment in our prosperity and security – enabling developing countries to climb out of poverty through growth, trade and investment, whilst bringing stability to some of the most volatile and dangerous parts of the world, and creating a safer and more prosperous world for our children and our children’s children, whether they live in Britain, Canada, Rwanda or Pakistan.
It is because I believe so deeply in the power of Britain’s aid budget that I, and many others, fought so hard to ensure that Britain followed through on its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on international aid.
I am personally incredibly proud of having been a member of a Conservative-led government that delivered on the 0.7 per cent promise to the world’s poorest people, even at a time of great austerity in Britain.
Canada is really missing a trick if it doesn’t do the same. The time is right for Canada to fulfill its long made promise to increase its aid spending from around 0.26 per cent of gross national income to 0.7 per cent. Why do I think so?
Because development is making a difference to millions of people. Let’s look at just three achievements for British aid of which I am particularly proud: British aid vaccinates a child in the poorest parts of the world every two seconds and saves the life of a child every two minutes by protecting them against diseases that virtually no child in Britain or Canada, thank goodness, will die from.
Britain has championed efforts on family planning, to reduce by half the number of poor women in the world who want access to contraception and family planning but are not able to get it. And, with all-party support, we introduced the girls’ education challenge fund, designed to ensure that one million girls in the most difficult parts of the world get an education.
On top of the difference we have made abroad, I believe that our development investments have helped to augment security and stability right here in Britain, by training the police in Afghanistan, building up governance structures in the Middle East and getting girls in the Horn of Africa into school.
Are the people of Britain with me in my support for international aid? In spite of what some tabloid newspapers may have you believe, the answer is yes. The British public – from all sides of the political spectrum – believe that our international aid budget reflects our values as a country and our desire to help the least well-off
Is aid perfect? Of course not. Inevitably, aid is delivered in some of the most insecure and troubled parts of the world, which will always make guaranteeing impact and efficiency challenging. Taxpayers need to know that aid works and that their money is well spent.
That is why I made clear that we expected every pound of hard-earned taxpayers’ money to deliver 100 pence (or cents!) of value on the ground. That is why I brought in a Transparency Guarantee to ensure that full information on all the Department for International Development’s spending is published on the departmental website. And that is also why I set up the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which reports not to ministers but to Parliament and the International Development Select Committee, which exists to hold ministers to account. Canada could do the same.
Finally, I believe in delivering on our political promises, even when it is difficult. It was in 1970 that countries at the UN General Assembly made a resolution committing all rich countries to spending 0.7 per cent of their gross national income on international aid.
Who stood at Canada’s helm when this promise was made? One Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Today, 46 years later his son stands in that same office, with the power to follow through on the promises made by his father. Britain is proud of our 0.7 per cent aid commitment; so much so that we enshrined it in law. It is time for another G7 country to follow suit, and Canada is ready.
When Canada next hosts the G7 country leaders in 2018, I hope that it will be able to say that it, too, has followed through on its promises to the world’s poorest people.
A promise made by a father, fulfilled by a son, and a commitment made from our generation to increase prosperity and stability for the next.Report Typo/Error
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