August 3, 2016 : Ruth Boyle

International development at risk from British business interests

Any use of foreign aid to support post-Brexit trade deals will be shamefull

Remember international development and the aid budget?

Well, the UK Government is now questioning why we should care about vulnerable people when we can focus on trade instead.

Why, for example, should foreign aid be used to vaccinate 360 million children against polio when it could help promote Brexit?

It sounds awful, but this appears to be one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s priorities.

Despite the many political differences between myself her predecessor, David Cameron, one thing I can’t condemn is his commitment to international development.

Despite criticism from his own backbenches, Cameron met the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid and enshrined this commitment in law. This made UK the first G7 country to meet the UN’s spending target. That’s something to be proud of.

Apparently David Cameron spent his final day as Prime Minister explaining the virtues of international development to Mrs May. I wouldn’t necessarily think she heeded the advice.

The first clue was the disappearance of climate change at departmental level, and the appearance of a new office for International Trade. An interesting shift of priorities, you might say.

Second, the appointment of Priti Patel to the role of International Development Secretary is a worrying statement of intent. Patel has previously called for the department to be scrapped, in favour of a department for international trade and development.

It’s hard to imagine how trade investment could have any tangible impact for the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria

Finally, it emerged yesterday that Britain now intends to leverage the £11bn foreign aid budget to build trade deals to serve Britain’s post-Brexit interests – a move that involves forming closer ties to the Department for International Trade. The result: development shifts to being a tool for enhancing Britain’s standing in the world.

The Department for International Development was nurtured by successive Labour governments. The mechanism which enabled aid to subsidise British companies was scrapped, and the 2002 International Development Act committed UK aid to be spent only on poverty reduction. These important changes prevented aid from being a bribe.

While not going as far as scrapping the legislation, the initial moves by Mrs May’s Government indicate a desire to work around these clauses.

Free trade cannot solve the multi-faceted issues facing developing countries.

Business contracts will not help the world’s most marginalised girls to get a quality education in the way that the Girls’ Education Challenge can.

Trade will not help us to keep fighting child mortality.

It’s hard to imagine how trade investment could have any tangible impact for the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.

Helping the world’s poorest people should be a priority for and mark of a civilised economy and society. However, if some people cannot be convinced by arguments of the heart, surely the national interest can convince many more of the value of this work?

After all, tackling the root causes of many global challenges, including climate change and terrorism, rests on our ability to create a more stable, healthier world.

There are so many fantastic national and international charities and NGOs working tirelessly in the realm of international development.

While volunteering for SCIAF, I saw first-hand the impact our international development work has on people’s lives and their communities. Development isn’t an abstract concept, it provides tangible, life-saving support to people across the world.

International Development must have the world’s most vulnerable people at its heart. To use foreign aid to further Britain’s post-Brexit interests would be a shameful mark of our Government, and our humanity.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle