The UK government publishes the results of its reviews into the UK's aid programme today. As things change around the world of course it is right to review our aid priorities and how that money is spent. But what must not change is the government's commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income (GNI) on aid by 2013. That was promised in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos and in the coalition agreement. The Secretary of State for international development, Andrew Mitchell, must confirm that the 0.7%/2013 commitment will not be the government's next broken promise. He must resist those who urge the government to abandon this pledge and must campaign vigorously to show that aid matters, it saves lives and it works. The girls and boys sitting at school desks in Bangladesh, the women who no longer have to walk for miles to fetch water in Nigeria and the millions of children who no longer die from preventable diseases are the proof of that.
The government has already decided to freeze aid as a percentage of GNI for the next two years. That freeze will mean £2.2bn less for people in the poorest countries of the world. That money could have been used to build schools, for malaria nets and life-saving vaccinations for millions of children. After 13 years in which the Labour government tripled the aid budget, reversing the cuts of the previous Tory government, and led the world in giving greater priority to tackling global poverty, that decision to freeze aid risks undermining the UK's leadership.
As well as keeping to the 0.7%/2013 aid promise the government must keep the spirit of that promise.
Andrew Mitchell must protect the Department for International Development from raids by other government departments, which are facing savage, unnecessary cuts. Already, nearly £2m from DfID's budget has been used to fund the Pope's state visit and £160m more was used to back up a loan to the Turks and Caicos islands. Neither of those decisions count as tackling global poverty. The development secretary must guarantee today that DfID will not be used as a hole in the wall for other government departments and must reclaim the money that he gave to fund the Pope's visit.
The government has already confirmed that there will be a greater shift in aid towards the fragile and conflict-affected states in which there is so much poverty and suffering. It is right that we help those people, as we recognised in our 2009 white paper. However, the government must ensure that our aid programme does not become subsumed in our military or secuirty objectives and that DfID's poverty-reduction mandate is resolutely defended. In war zones and countries recovering from conflict it is also much harder to ensure every pound is well spent so the government must also set out how it will ensure this aid reaches those who need it most. It must also ensure that countries which may not be beset by conflict but which are beset by poverty do not lose out.
The way to build support for our aid programme is to go out there and campaign for it and to show how our aid is saving lives. It doesn't help build support for our aid programme or for the government for the secretary of state to create artificial distinctions between his government and the Labour government when the focus on ensuring value for money for the British taxpayer and the decisions to end aid to Russia and China are not new, but are in fact a continuation of what we did in government. Their task should not be unprincipled one-upmanship of our work on aid. Their task is to work with everyone - including us - who want that work on aid to continue.