HM the Queen has today formally opened the latest session of the UK Parliament for the 58th time in her reign, and outlined the new coalition’s agenda for the new term outlining the bills they intend to put through the Parliament.
But one phrase in the speech, more precisely one word in that phrase, stood out prominently for me and came when the Queen addressed her Government’s plans for development aid spending…
“My Government is committed to spend 0.7% of gross national income in development aid from 2013.”
The word that interests me the most is ‘from’ since the previous Labour administration under Tony Blair announced it would ensure development aid spending reached this UN target by 2013, and has been repeated on many occasions by him, his predecessors and ministers from all sides of the house.
Indeed, the new Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has too reaffirmed his commitment to match the Labour policy of 0.7% of GNI by 2013, and the coalition government had announced before today’s Queen’s Speech that it would “ring-fence aid spending” from the anticipated heavy cuts in spending required to reduce the countries’ overall budget deficit.
So how well is the UK doing?
Well first and foremost, the UK is not yet contributing the target 0.7% GNI, but officials have indicated that it is “on track” to meet these targets.
Back in January 2010, before the recent elections and announcement of cuts, the Department for International Development projected £9.1 billion of aid spending in the 2010-2011 financial year, which if indeed ring-fenced from these cuts and guaranteed, will translate to only 0.56% of the UK’s GNI.
However according to figures from the DfiD development aid spending accounted for 0.52% of GNI in 2009, compared with 0.43% in 2008, which was the highest level of the ODA:GNI ratio since the United Nations target of 0.7% was set in 1970. Now while this indicates the UK is on track to reach the target, will it ever make it?
As a pre-election move to ensure the UK does fulfil its obligations in the future, the previous Labour Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, presented a draft bill before Parliament in January 2010 that would legally bind the UK to reaching 0.7% by 2013 and maintaining it thereafter.
The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill would, if passed onto the statute books, would make Britain the first G8 country to publish such legislation and commit it to spending 0.7% every year as stated in Section 1.1:
“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance to amount to 0.7% of gross national income (in this Act referred to as ‘the 0.7% target’) is met by the United Kingdom in the year 2013 and each subsequent calendar year.”
What perhaps is the most satisfying element of this draft bill is the measures it outlines in the case of the Government not allocating this 0.7% GNI to aid spending. The draft bill would require the Secretary of State to explain his or her reasons why it was unable to fulfil its pledge and what had been done to get back on track in the following year.
Appropriately labelled as ‘historic’ by Douglas Alexander, this bill would “ensure that Britain makes good on its promises to people living in extreme poverty across the world” and would mean it would reach the target two years ahead of the European Union’s collective commitment to reach it by 2015.
So what does this latest Queen’s Speech reveal about the UK’s commitment to development aid?
If the Queen’s statement on her new Government is to be believed then it is good news regarding the UK’s commitment to reaching the United Nations target. If interpreting it as meaning the draft bill by the former International Development secretary Douglas Alexander will be adopted, then this too should be welcomed.
But the real question mark remains whether the spending commitments outlined by the DfiD in January will indeed be ring-fenced or will be subject to the necessary cuts the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne needs to make to address the UK’s swelling budget deficit.
To discover that we need to wait for the Emergency Budget due on June 22nd.
But while the figures show that under the last Labour government development aid budget increased threefold, aid agencies are reportedly worried what will happen under a Conservative government recalling how the aid budget was slashed under the Thatcher and Major administrations.
Expect more from me then, but in the meantime do you think the UK will ever meet the 0.7% target?