Harriett Baldwin MP was a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development Minister of State.
When politicians break manifesto pledges they pay an electoral price. Think George HW Bush and “read my lips: no new taxes” followed by tax hikes and a single term as president. Think Nick Clegg and “no tuition fees” followed by tripled tuition fees and the loss of 85 per cent of Liberal Democrat parliamentary seats. But break a manifesto pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of your national income on helping the world’s extreme poor and those who suffer can’t answer back at the ballot box. It will even be seen as a good thing by many readers of these pages.
That’s why it’s so important for those of us who have had the privilege of seeing the good that UK Aid does to speak up on behalf of those who will lose out from the decision in the Spending Review to cut the aid budget to 0.5 per cent.
First and foremost, it’s not a good idea to break any manifesto pledge, but to break only one and to pick on the most vulnerable people in the world is deeply shameful.
Anyone who has seen the nutrition being given to babies in Ethiopia or Somalia appreciates that aid for nutrition saves babies’ lives. Fewer babies will survive without UK Aid.
Anyone who has witnessed the invention and then the cold chain deployment of an Ebola vaccine to the furthest reaches of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo knows that this deployment, funded by UK Aid has helped not only to control Ebola but to protect us here at home and help us develop the skills we need today for deploying the Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccines save lives, including our own.
Anyone who has seen the enthusiasm with which girls in Sierra Leone study their lessons knows that the best chance poor countries have to move beyond aid is through universal access to quality education. Fewer children will finish school if we give less in aid.
The aid budget has already shrunk naturally due to the link to national income, with cuts of £2.9 billion this year. Not only that but other Western countries which link their aid to their economic progress will be cutting as well.
Our economy, our health and our wellbeing have suffered terribly this year and we certainly need to recover both our health and our finances. But the shock to the most vulnerable countries is much worse. Famine, which has not been seen on our planet since 2011 is now stalking 10 countries according to the Nobel prize-winning World Food Programme. How will we feel about cutting aid if we see the kind of shocking scenes of starvation that started Live Aid in the 1980s?
With the UK hosting the 26th Climate Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in November we will rightly want to contribute even more to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change. Cyclones like Idai which hit Mozambique in 2019 will continue to ravage poor countries with increasing frequency.
At the peak of the pandemic, almost one billion children were missing school and when the UK co- hosts the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education this year with Kenya we will rightly want to be a leading donor.
Oxford University has developed a cheap vaccine. If approved, we should increase our vaccine commitment to the GAVI vaccine alliance to make sure that this vaccine reaches every poor country, proudly marked with the Union Jack UK Aid logo. In short, the lower aid budget will be spent fast.
The timing could not be worse. We have always proudly stated to our friends around the world that we are the only G20 country to spend the NATO target of two per cent on defence and the UN target of 0.7 per cent on overseas development assistance. We will begin our post EU future by dropping our soft power budget just as China’s economy recovers and they can increase their soft power projection. This will prove exceptionally short-sighted geopolitics.
For moral, diplomatic, humanitarian, educational and even for entirely selfish reasons about the kind of world I want to pass on to the next generation, I will certainly not be voting to break this manifesto pledge.