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

Photo: ASA
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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA