Baroness Jenkin of Kennington is Chair of Conservative Friends of International Development (CFID), Mark Simmonds is MP for Boston and Skegness (Deputy Chair of CFID) and Fiona Hodgson, former president National Convention and a Patron of CFID. Follow CFID on Twitter.
We launched Conservative Friends of International Development last year at a packed event at conference. In the run-up to the 2012 Budget on 21st March, our hundreds of supporters have been telling us again and again: our Party should maintain its commitment to international development because it is a daily demonstration of our Conservative values.
One of our key purposes as a group is to explain to all voters why, whatever the economic climate, we should aim to ‘encourage enterprise, opportunity and aspiration for every family, no matter where they live.’ To those who question the value of overseas aid, we point out that supporting projects that help the world’s poorest lift themselves out of poverty makes sense, especially in an increasingly interconnected world. It is not only morally the right thing to do – it acts as an investment for our future prosperity.
And international development is about more than our economic and national interest: the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, has made clear this Government’s commitment to transparency and value for money. Foreign aid is a hand up, not a hand out, and an increasing focus of our aid is on enterprise and economic development. It is crucial that not a penny is siphoned off into corrupt pockets, but we can see that international development, properly targeted and properly done, is true to who we are and what we stand for as a Party.
Many colleagues have read about or experienced conservative values in action through Project Umubano and Project Maya, which continue to grow and make a positive sustainable difference to the people of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia and a number of other countries. The hundreds of volunteers who have been on these trips know at first hand that Conservative values are a natural fit with international development – it is about enabling people to help themselves to sustainably move out of extreme poverty. Indeed, as Andrew Mitchell has said himself, real development means focusing on doing everything we need to do to wean countries off aid; DfID is a department that seeks, long term, to spend less money not more.
Indeed, properly explained, our spending on International development is even a winner on the doorstep. Although many believe that we spend a huge proportion of taxpayers’ money on foreign countries, in fact it is currently just around 0.6 per cent of Government spending. For someone on a salary of £40,000, the amount of their tax contribution that goes on DFID spending is around £70-80; an appropriate and small part of the overall tax take. Yet the value for money from that £70-80 is substantial, and quickly recognised when voters are told that they are helping vaccinate a child every two seconds and saving a life every two minutes.
We regularly speak with voters about international development, and when they hear the positive results of our investments, they are supportive and wish it to continue. Indeed, today we met with members of the public who came to Parliament to say thank you for our party’s commitment to international development. They spoke about their pleasure of the success of our contributions to Global Fund, which despite problems saves around 4,000 lives a day. It is difficult to find many other areas of government spending that provide such value.
We can and should be proud of Britain’s role in leading the international fight against extreme poverty and the suffering it brings, because we know under this government, International Development reflects genuine Conservative principles.