From Rhetoric to Reality? - Our response to the Queen's Speech
0.7 is the magic number?
It’s a good news story. But is it just that? The Queen’s speech today has shown an explicit commitment to reaching the 0.7% target, addressing the issue head-on and stating that - “My Government has set out firm plans to spend nought point seven per cent of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. This will be the first time the United Kingdom has met this agreed international commitment.” It should not be underestimated how significant it is that this issue featured in the Queen’s speech at a time when domestic issues could have overshadowed our need to openly state our global responsibilities.
This is hugely welcomed.
The UK government has stuck its head above the parapet and stood its ground on their commitment, yet we are in a somewhat contrary situation whereby implementation has preceded legislation. In most circumstances we might find ourselves complaining that laws are created and not effectively enforced and here we are with DFID’s budget soaring and no law to maintain a steady flow of aid that can ensure long-term and sustainable benefit. There are no compelling reasons as to why 0.7% should not be enshrined in law: there are 22 states that have committed to the 0.7% target - 5 of which have already achieved it. This target is realistic by way of the very concept it is built on. If our economic circumstances change for the worse then our national contributions in terms of monetary value will dwindle along with our economy, and our contributions will stay proportionate to our ability to fund them. That is why 0.7% is so widely accepted, because it is a matter of principle not ‘sacrifice’.
But the focus on 0.7 as a theory of change has its limitations and we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Dedicating 0.7% of our GNI is not the result; it is the means by which we will achieve results in the long run. With huge budgets dedicated to both saving lives and ensuring people thrive as well as survive, the real issue to push is that DFID needs to be adequately resourced in terms of staff and capacity to be able to deliver on the promise in way of it being a means to an end and not the end itself.
Fluctuation in levels of aid is a false economy. 0.7 is a bold move that deserves the strongest support, but let’s make sure we can look back and say ‘this was a real moment where we moved from rhetoric to reality’.
The Queen’s speech strongly put forward plans and measures that will improve the lives of some of the most marginalised children in the UK. We truly hope that this sentiment will be reflected in international programming as children and youth represent the majority demographic in most conflict affected and fragile states and face huge additional barriers to their progress and survival. In Afghanistan for example, which was highlighted as a priority, children as young as 8 are being used as suicide bombers. Children and youth cannot be forgotten in attempts to secure nations, they are after all the future of that nation itself. Change starts with a child.
With horrific emergency situations crowding the humanitarian space, we also hope that silent crises and chronic emergencies are not further forgotten. Countries like Iraq continue to be plagued by violence and insecurity, hampering development and resulting in 100 infant deaths per day. Central African Republic (CAR) is another example of an acute and forgotten chronic emergency that demands leadership in the International Community to put it firmly on the map of development assistance. CAR has become known as ‘the black hole of Africa’ due to the silence of the crisis – often ignored by donors, governments and the media alike, yet it is classed as the second most vulnerable country in the world after Somalia with 6% of the entire population dying every year and well over a quarter (30.26%) of the female population of CAR having been raped, with incidents involving children as young as 8.
Now that we have a clear commitment to achieving 0.7% within the next 12 months, we need to have a strong focus on where it is most needed. Children should always be at forefront when aid priorities are being discussed.