I have seen the benefits of aid to India

As you walk through Delhi’s slums, you realise the enormous scale of the problems India faces.

I’ve just returned from visiting Save the Children programmes in India, where I saw that all eyes were fixed on London for the Olympics. When asked in a Delhi slum if the Queen and James Bond really had parachuted into the opening ceremony, I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to tell the children that they hadn’t , but it showed how the Games have shone a spotlight on the UK. As the Olympics close next week, David Cameron will host a summit of world leaders to try and address hunger and malnutrition. The convergence of global attention on London provides an opportunity to galvanise political commitment to tackle these critical issues, which each year mean that 2.6 million children die before their fifth birthday.

Having visited India before, I knew it was a place of enormous contrasts; death is part of life and life can be desperately cheap. I was, however, still shocked to learn that in India nearly 5,000 children die every day.  Can you imagine the outrage if 5,000 children died every day in a war? A major cause of these deaths is malnutrition, which weakens children so their bodies can’t withstand routine illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia.  Almost half of India’s children that do survive are stunted, meaning their bodies and brains don’t develop properly due to lack of nutrition.

In Delhi, I visited the Okhla slum, home to some 100,000 of the most marginalised people. Many of the slum dwellers are migrants from rural India who, ironically, came to Delhi in search of a better life. Okhla is like much of Delhi; chaotic and vibrant, the skyline breached by hotels, factories and businesses. It is as you delve deeper in to the winding, rubbish strewn streets that you realise the sheer size of the slum. It was in Okhla that I met Kusum and her baby daughter, Ritu.

Ritu was born nine months ago, the sixth of Kusum’s children. Her eldest child is 16 years old, born shortly after Kusum’s marriage at the age of 15.  Ritu was severely underweight at birth, weighing just three and a half pounds. At nine months, she is about the size of my own four month old daughter.  For Kusum, life is a daily battle to find enough food to feed her six children, with wheat the staple food in the slums and vegetables incredibly difficult to afford.  Kusum told me that Save the Children’s mobile health unit allows her to seek regular medical advice and treatment, without which she’s not sure what would happen to Ritu. She may not be sure but I’m certain what would happen to her.

The mobile health unit is a free service provided to the community for women and children. The unit I visited was well equipped with medical stocks, and I watched professional and dedicated doctors and staff dispensing diagnosis and treatment for a broad range of ailments and infections.  Importantly, the doctors also provide education to the local community about health, hygiene and sanitation, in order to reduce the reoccurrence of preventable diseases.  On the day I visited, and despite monsoon rains, the mobile health unit treated over 200 patients from Okhla alone. 

There are those who question British aid to India. At a time when India is investing in a space programme and our economy is in recession, with severe cuts being made to vital local services in our communities, that is understandable. But seeing the benefit that the poorest gain from lifesaving interventions such as this, justifies Save the Children’s investment in India and the Department for International Development’s largely well-targeted aid programme.  And as you walk through Delhi’s slums, with children scavenging piles of rubbish in search of food to eat or scraps to sell, you realise the enormous scale of the problems India faces. 

The elephant in the room is the extent to which India, a brilliant and proud nation, can better ensure that it invests its own resources in the most effective way – given our historic links, a diplomatic minefield for the UK and a huge challenge for India. Fundamentally though, for the UK to behave as a responsible member of the international community, it is right to take action that saves lives every day.

The government is right to convene next week’s meeting of world leaders to address the crisis of malnutrition, which is responsible for 300 children’s deaths around the world every single hour.  But to turn the tide on this endemic problem, one summit will clearly not be enough.  Next year, as the UK hosts the G8, there is a real opportunity to further galvanise global action to address hunger.  And to truly demonstrate his commitment to tackling poverty, Cameron must now introduce the long-promised legislation committing 0.7% of national income to aid, and secure a brighter future for millions of children like Ritu.

Labour MP Dan Jarvis listens to slum dwellers in Delhi.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle