From the TUC

Overseas development funding pledge: Law at last!

09 Mar 2015, by in International

We’ve just heard the good news that the private member’s bill on the UK contribution to Official Development Assistance (ODA) has successfully navigated both Houses of Parliament and is awaiting Royal Assent to become law. The TUC takes this opportunity to thank all affiliates, their members, MPs, UK development organisations and all other interested parties for this unique and historic achievement and salute them for their commitment and determination.

In 2013, the UK achieved the UN-recommended target by allocating 0.7% of the Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA for the first time and became the first G7 nation to do so (joining a number of other, smaller northern European nations).  A rare consensus among main political parties on the need to dig deeper into our pockets in the face of grinding poverty and growing inequalities between and within nations contributed to this remarkable success despite numerous detractors including some from academia who spared no sophism in their attempts to dissuade Parliament. An even rarer political alignment on the imperative to enshrine it in law has now been crowned with success, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of dedicated development campaigners under the umbrella of BOND, without which the bill about to receive the Royal Assent would have become yet another casualty in sterile party politics.

The TUC and affiliates have long been staunch advocates of the UN-recommended target dating back to the 1960s. The international trade union movement led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has accompanied us throughout the long, arduous journey to lobby successive governments of all persuasions to redeem a pledge made to the developing world some 45 years ago.  The predictability of UK aid now being assured, recipient governments will be in a better position to factor external funding into their national development strategies, to a greater degree of certainty. Hopefully, the development constituency in the UK can shift their focus from quantity to quality of aid and, more precisely, on development effectiveness and other issues of substance beyond aid.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa and the swift and generous response from the UK Government and the public alone should open the eyes of those who take a jaundiced view of increases in ODA. Investments in vital public services – education, health, water and sanitation – in the developing world will receive renewed impetus when the bill becomes law. Children in remote corners of the planet will have better classrooms and more qualified teachers to teach them. And there will definitely be more girls among them.  More women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will give birth to healthier babies in safer hospitals and clinics. More people in sub-Saharan Africa will have access to safe water. Of course, UK aid alone cannot solve all problems related to under-development. Nevertheless, it does make a difference to those in greatest need – pregnant women in a shanty town in Nairobi, school children in Kathmandu or farming communities in rural Ethiopia. And we can well afford to do so despite claims to the contrary in some quarters. In 2013, when UK ODA peaked at 0.72% of GNI, it cost roughly £177.85 per person per year, which averages out to less than 50p a day per person.

We are on the verge of wrapping up a set of new development goals – the post-2015 sustainable development agenda – now being negotiated in the UN. The third UN Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Ababa in July 2015.  The UK’s decisive action on ODA could not have come at a more opportune time.

Let’s hope that the example will be emulated by others in the G7 fraternity, perhaps by turning the UN goal of spending 0.7% of GNI on development into a formal levy.