Greg Hands is MP for Chelsea and Fulham, and a former Minister of State at the Department of International Trade.
As co-author of the Government’s 2015 Aid Strategy, I take pride in the UK being the first G7 country to achieve the commitment of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development. It speaks to our proud record of assisting those in need and to the U.K.’s firm internationalism, which will endure beyond Brexit.
This was laid bare to me on a recent visit to Zambia, where what I saw was truly shocking, particularly given that Zambia is a lower middle income country, with vast natural resources, as well as having had fifty years of peace, unlike most of the region. I visited nutrition projects run by Unicef, which seek to address the fact that stunting affects 40 per cent of children. Stunting, a condition caused by malnutrition that leads to reduced physical and mental development, has profound impacts on the children it affects, as well as their communities more widely.
Since it can be passed through generations – with malnourished mothers giving birth to malnourished babies, continuing the vicious cycle – there is an urgency to the situation. Stunting means poor physical and brain development: the cost is to families, to society and to the economy. With estimates that suggest stunting can reduce a country’s GDP by as much as 12 per cent, failing to act threatens to severely impact Zambia’s economy.
This problem emphasised to me the moral incentive for donor countries to act. The UK has a remarkable opportunity to continue to be a global leader on this issue, and we should seek to ensure that every intervention we make has the largest impact as possible. Where we make an impact abroad, we also benefit at home.
My other priority I laid out in 2015 for international development generally was that every pound must be spent correctly. For every pound lost to corruption, there is a pound less to be spent on those who most need it. That is why I fully supported the Government’s decision to halt direct funding worth £4 million to the Zambian government over allegations of corruption. I wasn’t expecting to make the front page of the Zambian newspapers with my call to end corruption – the desire to fight corruption shouldn’t be headline news, after all! While the decisions to suspend aid are not taken lightly, it is important to show that we will not tolerate UK taxpayers’ money being spent incorrectly. This is essential to maintain public support in this country too.
Giving aid requires good faith. Faith that it will be spent as intended. When our aid is spent correctly, it can have huge benefits for the recipients, as well as for the the UK. The demands placed on our aid budget are simply enormous, and we have to ensure that the methods we use to measure health and nutrition outcomes are as accurate as possible. DfID should seek to increase investment into its data collection systems, so that we can accurately measure our interventions. The data used in Zambia is from 2014 – a long time ago, if you are seeking to achieve month-by-month progress.
We also have to ensure that our aid spending is sustainable, and boosting the economic development of a country is a key way of doing this. I am a huge believer in the ability of a country’s capacity to grow their way out of poverty, which includes boosting levels of trade. I fully support the Government’s drive to increase our trading links with various African countries, and the sustainability of these projects is self-evident. I join Penny Mordaunt in praising the work of the Commonwealth Development Fund (CDC), who do a remarkable job in creating jobs and infrastructure across Africa.
As we seek to look for new opportunities across the globe as we leave the European Union, our aid budget will only ever increase in importance. It’s good for Britain, and most importantly, it helps the most needy in our global society.