Amanda Solloway MP is CFID Chair and Member of Parliament for Derby North.
When examining the UK’s overseas aid budget, I am the first person to argue for fearless scrutiny and a ruthless drive to eradicate waste.
But the evidence of the astounding impact of British aid shows why the aid debate should be about efficiency, not cuts.
I do not intend to pick apart every accusation that the batch of recent anti-aid media stories have aimed at British aid – the Department for International Development (DFID) did a good job of that themselves.
There may well be examples of waste and error amongst the good work being done, but the response to that should be scrutiny and improvement, rather than abandonment.
I am encouraged by the ongoing drive to ensure British aid is the most efficient it can be – including the news last year that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the International Development Select Committee will now scrutinise overseas aid wherever it is spent in government.
Scrutiny, both parliamentary and public, is essential to ensuring our money is well spent, and is having the biggest impact it can for the people who need it most.
While we are a country that stands up for the world’s least fortunate people, we are also one that often fails to give itself the credit it is due. The world is a better, safer, more prosperous place than it was at the turn of the millennium, and British aid has played a crucial role.
In rough terms, since 2000: the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved, the number of primary school aged children not enrolled in school has halved and the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has halved.
Even since 2011, we have bought the mosquito nets that stopped six million people dying from malaria, supplied the vaccinations that ensured five million children survived past their fifth birthday, and given 11 million children a chance in life by supporting them through education.
Our aid budget is not about writing cheques to distant foreign despots, as the Mail on Sunday’s recent campaign would have us believe, it is about saving and changing lives.
In 2014 and 2015, 1,600 NHS staff and 800 UK military personnel, along with hundreds of British charity workers, deployed to West Africa to tackle the Ebola virus. They saved countless lives and helped to stop the spread of the disease, ending the epidemic.
These people and the thousands of other Brits working to rebuild communities after disasters, improve health and education systems, or give shelter to refugees represent the very best of our country. To say we should spend less on aid is to say that we are country that should be doing less to help.
Tt comes down to a question of what we think Britain’s role should be. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, our aid budget is one of the things that make me proud to be British.
We are consistently a country that defies expectations, punches above our weight and refuses to be beholden to the low standards of others. While other countries renege on their commitment to the world’s poorest, I am proud that the UK has met the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our GNI on development assistance.
As we heard during the Queen’s Speech last month, British aid is a powerful demonstration of the UK’s moral commitment to helping the world’s most vulnerable. We must continue in this commitment, and encourage the other countries that made it to be as good as their word.
Remember: 836 million people still live in extreme poverty, 57 million children are still out of school, and six million children die before their fifth birthday every year.
In the face of this, instead of arguing that Britain should stop playing its part, we should be focused on the efficiency of British aid and celebrating the impact it is already having.