This country has been and always will be open and outward-looking, leading in solving the world's toughest problems and striving to be a force for good in the world. Whether it is stepping up to support desperate Syrians and Yemenis in conflict zones, leading the fight against Ebola and Malaria, or supporting millions of children to gain a decent education.
UK aid only goes to those countries, and persons within those countries, who really need it. When countries reach a sufficient level of economic development, they are no longer eligible to receive aid. This is why, for instance, the UK ended its traditional bilateral aid programmes in China (in 2011) and India (in 2015). Our relationships with these countries now consist of sharing expertise and cooperating to solve challenges of mutual concern, the most obvious being climate change. Likewise, foreign aid is not given as a blank cheque to foreign leaders. On the contrary, to ensure that aid only goes to those who need it, this is why UK aid is delivered via charitable/development organisations or by British aid workers themselves.
UK aid works. It provides essential vaccines and medicines for those who could not otherwise afford them; clean water and sanitation for those who have never known it; education for girls who have hitherto been denied it; and food and shelter for those facing famine and natural disaster. I do not think we can or should cease our international development efforts entirely whilst these tragic realities persist, and people need our help.
Nevertheless, we must be honest about where we are. The UK is currently experiencing its worst economic contraction in 300 years because of the pandemic, with a budget deficit double that caused by the 2008 financial crisis. At this time of unprecedented crisis, tough choices must be made, which is why the Chancellor announced a temporary reduction in the UK’s ODA budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of the UK's Gross National Income (GNI).
I am encouraged that the UK will be spending more than £10 billion in 2021 on its seven ODA priorities, as set out by the Foreign Secretary – climate change and biodiversity; global health security, including Covid-19; girls' education; responding to humanitarian crises, such as those in Yemen and Syria; science and technology; resolving conflicts and defending open societies, including human rights; and promoting trade.
As one of the most generous aid donors in the G7, with a commitment considerably higher than the OECD average, and coupled with our expertise and convening power, the UK remains a development superpower. For comparison, Canada spent just 0.3% of GDP on Foreign Aid in 2020, whilst these changes will bring the UK into line with France's 2020 spend of 0.5%.
The UK is, for example, the biggest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest fund in the world dedicated to improving education in developing countries; and the World Bank International Development Association, which works to accelerate progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Likewise, our contribution to the COVAX AMC is amongst the largest, and will contribute to the supply of at least 1.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, already reaching over 135 countries and economies.
Global health remains one of seven ODA priorities for the UK, on which approximately £1.3 billion will be spent by the FCDO in 2021/22 (not including the 100 million COVID-19 vaccines which we have pledged to share with developing countries in the next year).
I have been assured that the UK will return to 0.7 per cent as soon as the fiscal situation allows. That is, as the Chancellor clarified on 12 July, when the Government is no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and when debt is falling. I believe this the most economically prudent way in which to return to satisfying the 0.7 per cent target in light of the prevailing economic circumstances.
I welcome that the Government, recognising the strength of feeling felt by many Members across the House on this matter – and even though it was not necessarily obliged to do so by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 – gave Parliament a meaningful vote on its decision. I am glad that Parliament, recognising the need to manage the public finances responsibly and maintain strong investment in domestic public services, voted to approve the Government’s plans by a handsome margin.