Will Quince MP: British aid is not a piggy bank to be robbed, it is a life-saving force for good

Writing for the Times Red Box last week Will Quince MP for Colchester, argued the positive case for aid, UK's role as a superpower in international aid and how proud he is of the the difference it makes on the ground, differences he has seen first hand.

British aid is not a piggy bank to be robbed, it is a life-saving force for good

Our aid budget has become an easy target for many politicians, commentators and the media. Anyone with a cause in search of funding can say, “cut the aid budget and spend it on X instead”. I don’t believe that this is because of an inherent lack of generosity, but because most of us don’t see first-hand the difference that our support makes. I have met people who would be dead without the support British aid provides, and I’m incredibly proud that this is part of the role that we play on the world stage.

As Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, rightly pointed out recently Britain is a superpower in international aid. Our leadership, expertise and experience are respected around the globe. At a time when we are redefining our place in the world this really matters, as does the very tangible impact this commitment has. It transforms communities; it creates jobs; it leads to the emergence of vital new markets. Most importantly it saves lives.

In September I visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. I met a lady whose house was burnt and her husband killed and her son murdered before her eyes. She picked up her remaining children and what possessions she could carry and walked for five days in the hope that things might be better somewhere else. She got to the camps. As I spoke to her, she held her eight-month-old baby, who looked about four months old because of malnourishment. She was desperately trying to feed her baby as we spoke, but her malnourished body could not produce the milk to do so. As a father, it broke my heart, and it is not a one-off. I heard countless similar tales from women and children who had gone through horrific ordeals; reports of rape, murder, torture and mutilation are widespread.

British aid is funding NHS nurses and doctors to deploy to Bangladesh to assist these people. It is providing shelter, clean water, and food. It is funding 13 women’s centres which will offer psychosocial support for thousands of women, many of whom are survivors of sexual violence. British people, British expertise and British aid are offering hope to people who have experienced unimaginable horrors and, crucially, it goes hand in hand with the UK government’s diplomatic efforts to help ensure a long-term, sustainable solution, as distant as that may seem at times.

It’s not just in humanitarian response that we make a difference, it’s in helping developing countries to stand on their own two feet too. For example, the Department for International Development’s investment in reforming the Rwandan tax system, in partnership with the expertise of HM Revenue & Customs, led to a tripling of the revenues it raised between 1998 and 2006. As a result, spending by the Rwandan government on water and sanitation has increased more than fivefold, education expenditure has more than doubled and health expenditure has grown to almost five times the 2003 level while the proportion of Rwanda’s budget financed by aid has declined. Poverty is falling dramatically in Rwanda, and access to services has increased significantly. Aid isn’t just about writing cheques — a relatively small investment can be a catalyst for sustainable change.

It is easy to trot out lazy assumptions about waste, fat cats or corruption, especially when the impact of aid feels distant, but I am incredibly proud of the work that my taxes help to make possible, proud that Britain is a country that stands with the victims of atrocities, and proud that our support increases the ability of poor countries to provide for themselves.

By Will Quince, Conservative MP for Colchester