The Tory right are wrong: the 0.7% aid target is not just moral but smart

The aid recipients of today can become the trading partners of tomorrow. Cutting now would be a betrayal of the poor and our national interest.

The UN have compared the devastation in the Philippines to the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Red Cross described the scene as "bedlam", and hardened journalists on the ground say they have never seen anything like it before.

There is no question that the scene in Tacloban and much of the Philippines represents a full-blown humanitarian crisis – more than 4,000 dead, over 13 million affected and three million displaced. One week on, as aid slowly begins to trickle through, experts warn we are entering the peak danger zone for the spread of infectious diseases. And with sanitation and clean water scarce, dysentery, diarrhoea and E.Coli are now real and growing threats.

Here at home, the British people have once again responded with tremendous generosity. We all know times are tough, yet still the DEC appeal has already raised over £35m – and during a week in which Children in Need also raised over £30m. Of this we should all be proud.

And as sure as night follows day, as aid comes once again into the spotlight, it is no surprise that the siren voices of the Tory right are calling for a reduction in the help this country gives to those in desperate need. In a week when the British people have shown such extraordinary generosity that’s not just utterly out of touch – it’s wrong headed too.

It all comes down to a simple question. What sort of world do we want? Safe, prosperous and fair would be pretty near the top of most people’s lists. That is part of what international development is for.

In the five minutes it will take you to read this, more than 400 children will be immunised against preventable diseases thanks to projects supported by British aid. Because of that programme, 500,000 lives will be saved - 500,000 individual tragedies prevented. 

But a simple truth remains - far, far too many aren’t getting a fair chance in life. So the moral case for keeping our promise on overseas aid is overwhelming. Lives are saved, children are educated and communities get a fair chance thanks to the generosity of the British people. We should take great pride in that.

But giving aid isn’t just a moral choice - it’s the smart choice, too. The world today is interconnected like never before. Our national interest, our economy and our security, depends on the stability of many of those countries supported by DFID.

As a trading nation, we know exporting more will help us tackle some of the structural problems in our economy. And the aid recipients of today can become the trading partners of tomorrow. Where once we gave aid to South Korea, now they are one of our fastest growing markets. Helping South Korea, then, is helping us now.

That’s what international aid is about. Aid isn't about charity; it’s about human dignity. Reducing the need for aid in the future, helping countries create their own wealth and prosperity. More South Koreas, more trading partners and more opportunities for Britain.

And a fairer, more prosperous world is a safer world too. Depravation and inequality lead to desperation and illegality; conflict over scarce recourses and the vile trade in exploited people and a multitude of refugee crises. In many fragile states, youth unemployment runs at over 80%. In today’s globalised world, that’s not just a lack of human opportunity, but also a danger to us all.

As I’ve long argued, the best defence policy can sometimes be world class diplomacy. A more stable world means a safer UK. British aid supports fragile and conflict-ridden states, helps bring them out of the danger zone, and prevents the sort of conditions that breed radicalisation, violence and war. The right thing to do and the smart thing to do. How different could things be today if the world had invested more in securing Afghanistan and Somalia decades ago?

What happens in the rest of the world has an impact on us. That’s why the last Labour government led the international community in development. And we achieved a huge amount – we convinced the world to drop the debt at Gleneagles in 2005, and in 2008 we argued for and won new international commitments on malaria, food, education and health.

Under Labour, this country made a promise to the world that we would give 0.7% of our Gross National Income to overseas aid, a promise that David Cameron has rightly pledged to uphold. That’s not a commitment we can just walk away from - it wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t be in the national interest.

Britain’s commitment to 0.7% shouldn’t just be about a rebranding exercise for the Tories - it is deeper than that. It tells you about who we are as a country. 0.7% says we are committed to a safe, prosperous and fair world for everyone.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make sure every penny is well spent. Value for money is always important but in these difficult times iron discipline across every government department is absolutely vital - including at International Development. So Labour are clear - we will have a zero tolerance approach to failure, corruption and waste.

In a field where a few pence can save a life, we should seek not to waste a penny. As we build a new global covenant to replace the Millennium Development Goals, we must give what we promised, but we should go further - we must keep innovating, keep improving, and make sure every pound is spent wisely.

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary

Somalis displaced by famine queue at a food aid distribution centre in Mogadishu on January 19, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.