Cutting development spending now would be self-defeating

In a globalised and interdependent economy, we all stand to benefit from development spending.

While the Chancellor was delivering his Autumn Statement to a packed House of Commons, I was visiting immunisation services at a rural health centre on the foothills of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I saw for myself how UK development funding was being spent on the ground. Rural women had travelled with their children for miles to this remote clinic so that they might, through a simple vaccination, avoid life-threatening disease. The Autumn Statement provided an opportunity for some to ask the Chancellor to stop ring-fencing funding for international development. “Charity”, they say, “begins at home”. This has an obvious resonance in the current economic climate. However, it is a message which fails to recognise the value of development funding which goes beyond a simple handout and makes it an investment not just in the future of the otherwise impoverished but in our own future too.

The UK has a proud record in international development and can rightly claim to be a global leader in promoting effective, cost-efficient and innovative support to countries in the developing world. From the Labour governments of Blair and Brown, to the current coalition, international development is one of the areas of policy that we can be most proud. UK funding is helping to save lives, eradicate poverty and build healthy, economically vibrant communities across the world. We all stand to benefit from that in this globalised and interdependent economy.

I am here in Tanzania to participate in a global health partners’ forum being hosted by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health in partnership with the GAVI Alliance. The purpose of my visit is to meet parliamentarians from around the world, from both donor and recipient countries, and to foster greater political will for the introduction and sustainability of vaccine programmes to prevent pneumonia, diarrhoea, cervical cancer and rubella. Whilst here, we will take part in a series of debates and workshops and will meet with global health leaders, technical experts and civil society organisations. We are visiting urban and rural immunisation centres and clinics and meeting the very people that the UK taxpayer is helping to support through the availability of vaccines. Their gratitude for the UK’s contribution to GAVI for this life-saving initiative is humbling.

The theme of the conference is to explore ways to accelerate results, innovation, sustainability and equity in the field of immunisation. Taken in isolation, pneumonia - one of the leading killers of children under five in the developing world - is responsible for more than 1.3 million child deaths every year. By utilising a unique market shaping model, the GAVI Alliance aims to help avert 500,000 deaths by 2015 and 1.5 million future deaths by 2020. The story is much the same with diarrhoea, where effective vaccines are being used to tackle the leading cause of diarrhoeal disease. Diarrhoea is estimated to kill around 450,000 children every year - that’s nearly 1,200 children every day. These deaths are preventable and UK support is playing a vital role in making that happen.       

GAVI ought to need no introduction, nevertheless, it remains the too often unsung heroine of unified global action on development. Earlier this year I was back in Ghana, the country of my childhood, to witness the dual roll-out of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea.  GAVI was once again a welcome partner to local action on immunisation.

GAVI is a truly unique organisation. It brings together civil society, vaccine manufacturers, Governments and the private sector to use innovative finance mechanisms to secure significant development outcomes. One of these mechanisms is the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which I worked on with Gordon Brown during my time at the Treasury. GAVI has since become a byword for the successful and cost-effective delivery of international development, to the extent that David Cameron last year committed a further £814 million to support GAVI’s work.   

For those who continue to doubt the benefits of a sustained, long-term commitment to development funding, I would suggest they look at Tanzania to see the difference that UK funding is making to individual lives and communities. This difference is being repeated across the world. The cost of preventable disease, not just in human terms but in its destructive impact on overall health costs and wasted economic potential, is glaringly obvious in a country where women will walk miles with their babies on their backs to ensure a healthy life for a child. Our hard-earned taxpayers' money helps guarantee a healthy future for more children the world over. As a result, our world becomes a better place and the lives of those who share it with us become safer and more prosperous. That is surely worth a line in the Autumn Statement.

Former Labour cabinet minister Paul Boateng chairs a meeting of global health leaders in Tanzania.

Paul Boateng, a former British high commissioner to South Africa, MP, cabinet minister and civil rights lawyer, is a member of the House of Lords and a trustee of the Planet Earth Institute

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.