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UK leadership in international development

The Rt Hon Alistair Burt and Ryan Henson | Coalition for Global Prosperity

3 min read Partner content

At a time when the world is facing what Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, has described as a daunting set of international challenges, the United Kingdom is at its most influential when it acts as a global leader in development as well as in defence and diplomacy. With a smart and effective aid budget, which leverages British expertise, the UK can transform lives and boost security and prosperity at home and abroad.

The Rt Hon Alistair Burt is a former Conservative Member of Parliament and Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Ryan Henson is Chief Executive at the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

It is not a hopeless task to relieve poverty. A combination of increased trade, aid and economic development dramatically reduced extreme worldwide poverty during the twentieth century, despite rising populations. But the Sustainable Development Goals are off track. 700 million people remain in extreme poverty. Climate change’s impact on lives and livelihoods is accelerating, affecting developing countries the most. Soon half the world’s poorest will live in fragile or conflict-affected states, with a lack of state capacity and respect for the rule of law, high levels of corruption and enduring ethnic or political divisions. Today’s answer cannot be about rich countries ‘doing development’ to others. We need to work together as partners, shaping narratives which developing countries own and deliver.

British leadership in development is not just about our values, and doing what is right, it is also about making the world a better place for all of us. UK aid makes the world safer, because it stops epidemics like Ebola and Zika from spreading and helps resolve conflict and build democracies. It makes the world healthier, by helping to defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone, and immunising 67.1 million children against preventable diseases. UK aid has also helped produce a life-saving malaria vaccine. 

With an approach grounded in partnerships, the UK can help make people across the world better off. By sharing expertise, people in poorer countries can get the skills and resources they need to stand on their own two feet. Development has the capacity to save and improve lives. And in a world of increasing irregular migration, climate change, instability, and conflict, it is essential for our own security and prosperity as well.

It is in the UK’s national interest to invest in international development, alongside defence and diplomacy. To sustain the UK’s international leadership role, which makes both the UK, and the world, safer, healthier, and more prosperous, the UK should return to spending 0.7% of GNI on development as soon as possible, in line with the internationally agreed target, when the fiscal situation allows.

The UK should continue to fulfil its commitments towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and places the Goals at the heart of UK development policy. Most aid should be poverty focused and spent in line with the internationally agreed rules, treating recipient countries as partners. Whoever wins the next election, a standalone Cabinet Minister for Development should be retained, with development embedded within the FCDO and a core part of the Department’s mission. 

The 700 million people who still live in extreme poverty – many in dysfunctional or failed states – will be the first to suffer as authoritarian, revisionist powers continue to expand their influence or if climate change accelerates. The UK is not without capacity: we spend on Official Development Assistance approximately 70 per cent of what China spends per year on the Belt and Road Initiative. With a smart and effective aid budget, the United Kingdom can strengthen its capacity to extend international prosperity. In doing so, we will save and improve lives, defend vulnerable people from authoritarian advances, and keep British values at the heart of geopolitics in the twenty-first century.

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