After the Global Education Summit, UK aid needs a smarter strategy
To build on the contributions made last week at the Global Education Summit, we must also deliver the conditions children need to thrive, including good health and nutrition, political stability and economic opportunity, by delivering development programmes in parallel.
Earlier this month, MPs voted for a roadmap which will return the UK aid budget to 0.7% but in the meantime, it will remain at 0.5% until the fiscal condition set out allow. We always knew that there would be tough decisions following the economic fallout of the pandemic and this is a painful one.
With these constraints, our remaining international aid investments will now have to work even harder to deliver respectable outcomes. This may be why our Prime Minister made it a personal mission to spotlight quality education for girls, which he has termed the “swiss army knife” for solving world poverty. Such is his enthusiasm that last week he joined Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to co-host the Global Education Summit in London.
More than a year since the pandemic began, with education outcomes at risk and budgets dwindling, this event was set to be a defining moment. After the cuts, all eyes were on the UK to step up its commitment to education and achieve the $5 billion target to get 175 million more children into school over the next five years. Unfortunately, the total raised fell around $1 billion short, threatening the UK’s reputation on the world stage.
Without a multisectoral, integrated aid strategy, many lives – and investments - will be lost needlessly
The UK itself has also historically been a global leader in nutrition. Its £33 million investment in its Technical Assistance for Nutrition programme, for example, has supported at least 16 countries and reached more than one billion people.
After failing to achieve the funding targets for the Global Education Summit, however, it’s clear this leadership position is now at risk. If the government again fails to lead by example at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo later this year – an initiative it helped to establish – the global effort risks losing further ground and decades of hard-won gains.
The Prime Minister understands that getting children, especially girls, into school – and keeping them there – is indeed crucial to tackle poverty in the developing world. Just one extra year of school can increase a woman’s earnings by up to 20%. However, education is only one piece of the puzzle. If these children are malnourished, and therefore cognitively damaged before they ever set foot in a classroom, every penny spent on education will yield limited results and we will never reach our education goals.
Indeed, everything the government hopes to achieve with the aid budget is also enabled and enhanced through good nutrition. A well-nourished, healthy, and educated population provides a stable foundation for growth and economic development. It builds a country’s capacity to contribute more of its own resources towards essential services such as quality education and improved health care.
The Nutrition for Growth Summit will now be an even more important moment for the UK to demonstrate firm support, to maintain funding for nutrition. These are investments in the UK’s prosperity, and global health and economic security. Malnutrition doesn’t only impact educational and health outcomes – it impedes human immunity. As the world continues to grapple with Covid-19 and access to vaccines, malnutrition threatens the very foundation of human immune systems and resilience to disease – right when the world needs it most.
The Foreign Secretary has set out seven priorities for Overseas Development Assistance. They span a range of issues, including climate and biodiversity, global health security, girls’ education, and economic development and trade. But tackling each independently, in its own silo, is senseless. There is not a single area of development that is not impacted by another. This means the UK now needs an overarching strategy to integrate these seven pillars to achieve the best return on investment.
The UK aspires to lift communities out of poverty. To build on the contributions made last week at the Global Education Summit, we must also deliver the conditions children need to learn, thrive and achieve, including good health and nutrition, political stability and economic opportunity, by delivering development programmes in parallel.
Without a multisectoral, integrated aid strategy, many lives – and investments - will be lost needlessly. We owe it to children around the world, and the UK taxpayer, to establish the necessary building blocks for success.
David Mundell is the Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.
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