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: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.