Sunday, 17 March 2013

The IF Campaign and the issue of International Aid

With local Campaigners in the Hexham Office on Friday evening.
The IF campaign is a huge coalition of charities, notably Christian Aid, Oxfam, and so many more who are trying to raise awareness of the fact that millions across the world do not have not have enough to eat: 1 in 8 of the people on the planet go to bed hungry. Last Wednesday I met with the Green Alliance [for whom I am a climate change ambassador] and Tearfund, and Greg Barker, MP in Westminster.
On Friday evening I met with representatives of several local churches and charities to discuss what we are trying to do.
The PM, David Cameron, is holding a hunger summit in june, shortly before the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland, to make world hunger a key issue for the key countries this summer

There is a big campaign to ensure that we do three things in particular:
- Make sure that the budget statement next wednesday features a commitment on tax reform and international aid. I have written to the Chancellor and will reply to everyone who has written to me in the fullness of time.
- Tackle tax dodging: the key will be to ensure that all the key countries sign up to a regime where companies pay tax: this will take time but last year's naming and shaming of Starbucks and Amazon is the first step in a long journey towards worldwide accountablility. As I explained in my meeting on Friday the issue is very similar to action on climate change - it requires everyone to sign up. To that end the G8 summit is clearly key.
- Affirm our commitment to 0.7% contribution for international aid - and persuade other countries to step up to the plate on this issue. I do believe our position on this issue is changing other countries views.
As one charity put it when they wrote to me: "Through our actions, and his leadership, we can persuade governments to act too, and when they do, everyone on this planet will have the chance of getting the food they need to live a healthy, happy life."

It would be wrong to deny that the issue of International Aid does divide people's opinions, both locally and in westminster: by agreeing to safeguard this 0.7% of our Budget, and also the health service budget it does mean that other budgets gets squeezed harder - that is the principle complaint of people I meet. But as with all political choices there are consequences. The Coalition are having to make very significant choices on the budgets for everything from defence to welfare, justice to local government and so much more.  But we need to sell the reasons why it is good for Britain to make our aid contributions, not just why it is good for the starving and unlucky in Africa and beyond. This weekend the Courant talk about the formalising of plans for a food bank; my trip to the Samaritans last christmas once again made the point that there are plenty of people in the North East who are struggling badly to survive. It is not just abroad where these problems are.

But we need to repeat the key points that
- Aid saves countless lives, pure and simple.
- Aid is now being spent smartly - to alleviate poverty, hunger and so much more
- That Justine Greening, and successive Ministers before her, are ensuring that the Aid is going to where it is needed most
- Aid supports countries that might otherwise descend into chaos - which leads to death, mass migration, a failure of the economic system and a whole nation of dependents for the world to care for.
- We want other countries to thrive and prosper and become new economic markets for the UK
- 0.7% is a tiny proportion of our nations budget.

A few stats to finish on:
- The number of deaths of children under the age of five declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to below 8 million in the 20 years since then, which means nearly 12,000 fewer children die each day. Much of that decline has happened in the last five years since campaigns like Make Poverty History called for increased investments in vaccinations and anti-malarial bed nets.
- Increased funding and intensive control efforts have cut deaths from malaria by 20 per cent worldwide - from nearly 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009, with most of the decline concentrated in 12 African countries.
- New HIV infections have also declined steadily. In 2009, 2.6 million people were newly infected with HIV - a 21 per cent drop since infections peaked in 1997. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy has increased 13-fold from 2004 to 2009 with 5 million Africans in need now on life preserving antiretroviral therapy. That is down to effective, innovative and donor-supported mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
- Primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 18% between 1999 and 2009, the best improvement of any region.
It is absurd to argue that aid played no part in making this staggering statistics of progress happen.