A staggering amount of people in the UK are concerned that aid to developing countries is ineffective. According to a recent poll, 77% of the UK public think that the UK’s international development efforts have only made a small difference or no difference at all in the past 10 years.[i] Contrary to popular belief the UK gives just 0.7% to international aid, one of the most generous in Europe if you can call that figure generous.
The reality about the impact of international aid is very different to the perception. UK aid spending has contributed to life-changing results around the world. Here are five achievements that you should know about.
- In the five years of this Parliament alone, UK aid has transformed millions of lives
Thanks to the cross-party consensus on spending 0.7% of UK income on aid the UK will provide 60 million people with access to water, sanitation or hygiene services, save the lives of 50,000 mothers in childbirth and help vaccinate 55 million children.[ii]
- The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved since 1990
In 1990, the UN set a target to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty (on less than about £1 per day). It was met five years early meaning 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.[iii]
- HIV and AIDs is no longer a death sentence
Thanks to international campaigning and development aid, since 2005, HIV and AIDS-related deaths have dropped by almost a third and a girl born in sub-Saharan Africa today will live 16 years longer than if she was born in 1960.[iv]
- Smallpox and polio have been virtually eradicated
UK aid has helped to eliminate smallpox and reduce polio cases from 350,000 in 1988 to just 416 in 2013.[v]
- The success of aid means that many countries no longer need it
Not very long ago, people thought countries like Morocco, Brazil and Vietnam would always need aid, but thanks in part to the success of development programmes these countries are going from strength to strength. Here is a quick list of former major recipients that have grown so much that they receive hardly any aid today: Botswana, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia. South Korea received enormous amounts of aid after the Korean War, and is now a net donor.[vi]
This is progress worth shouting about. On Thursday 6th November as part of Voluntary Service’s Overseas (VSO) and Restless Developments Voices for Development programme, all the returned Development Advocates met at the Houses of Parliament to show a ‘Portrait of Progress’ from their volunteer experience. I met with both my London and home county MP to raise the importance of the UK’s continued support of developing countries and show an image of Martha Lego, an amazingly inspiring woman that I met when I travelled to the remote Raikos, who with the support of VSO is setting up a Widow’s Association. Martha’s story really touched me; she was a warm, determined and generous person who put me up in her bush material house overnight. She didn’t want to be reliant, she wanted to be independent and her untiring resolution to set up a small business to pay her children’s school fees and support her family showed first hand how VSO’s support makes such a big difference.
Alongside my image from Papua New Guinea other volunteers showed their photographs from a whole host of countries and contexts. Daniella Joseph shared a photo from her placement in Sierra Leone of a ‘showcase your ability’ race organised by her team. The streets of Bo were filled with members of the community as four different disability categories raced from the city centre to a local field, where an award ceremony was held. The event aimed to encourage and raise awareness of equal rights and equal treatment for people with disabilities in the classroom and beyond.
Progress is happening and it is changing people’s lives.
[i] Intermedia, (2012) ( funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) Building Support for International Development,
[ii] DfID (2013) UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results.
[vi] Gates Foundations 2014 annual letter: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/#section=myth-two