Baroness Barker: Politicians must make the case for UK aid

Posted On: 
5th December 2018

UK aid prevents suffering and creates a healthier, safer and more stable world is in everyone’s interests. 

UK aid label attached to supplies

International aid is one of those issues which unites people across the political spectrum. Liberal Democrats and the other major political parties all support international development as a vehicle for enhancing the United Kingdom’s influence throughout the world.

However, international aid has become an easy target for those who want to reduce the UK’s involvement on the global stage solely to investment in trade or contributions to disaster relief. One of the many achievements secured by the Liberal Democrats during Coalition was that the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid was written into law. Since then, the Conservatives have failed to stand up and explain to the critics why this spending is so vitally important.

Critics of the amount the UK spends on international aid miss the fact that, by being engaged in international programmes and being renowned to maintain our involvement for the long term, the UK manages to punch way above its weight. Equally, international aid is also vital for promoting liberal values throughout the world. Whether it is the right to free speech, the abolition of the death penalty or promoting equal rights, international aid is crucial in encouraging countries to promote the principles that we see as fundamental; human rights and democracy.

A good example is the UK’s leadership role within the Global Fund.  

The Global Fund is a partnership organisation designed to accelerate the end of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Working with governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases.

The Global Fund recently released its 2018 Results Report highlighting that the Global Fund has saved 27 million lives since it was created in 2002. In 2017 alone, the Global Fund supported 17.5 million people to access antiretroviral therapy.  The impact of that on the economies of countries across Africa and Asia is immeasurable. Not only do people make lesser and fewer demands on health services, but they also continue to contribute to the economy.

The UK is one of the founding donors of the Global Fund and continues to be a leading contributor, pledging an impressive £1.1 billion in 2016. The UK also sits on the Global Fund’s Executive Board guiding the strategic priorities of the global HIV response and ensuring UK tax payer money is well spent.

Similarly, NGOs are trying to increase transparency and accountability in order to build support for international aid. STOPAIDS created an interactive online tool that allows any UK citizen to work out how many lives their constituency has saved through tax payer contributions to UK Aid to the Global Fund.

The lifesaving impact of UK support to the Global Fund continues to be documented in the millions of people living with the virus. Impressive though that is, it should not overshadow the role which UK funding plays in research into new treatments and the search for a vaccine.  Research scientists and clinicians when asked to comment publicly are always cautious. However, they are quite clear that we cannot solve HIV/AIDS in the developed world completely, if we don’t see medical breakthroughs elsewhere in the world where they already have the facilities to manage HIV.

Though the Global Fund’s results report is cause for celebration, significant challenges remain. We are not on track to end AIDS by 2030. In 2017, 1.8 million people newly acquired HIV and 940 000 people died of AIDS related illnesses. UNAIDS estimates that there is an annual funding gap of $5 billion needed for the global HIV response. The Global Fund’s 6th Replenishment is in October 2019, it is vital that donors, including the UK government, step up and mobilise the necessary funds to end AIDS by 2030. 

At a time when US investment in international health initiatives is determined by ideology and religiosity, rather than medical evidence, it is more important than ever that the UK Government rallies for informed, enlightened policy and stands up for liberal, democratic values.

My Party is unequivocally clear: UK aid prevents suffering.  A healthier, safer and more stable world is in everyone’s interests. When those who would see Britain turn its back on our international commitments speak out, politicians must not remain silent.