By Ella McDermott
On Friday 12th September, the Houses of Parliament will be filled with the sounds of MPs debating the UK’s spending on foreign aid. This is because of a Private Members’ Bill put forward by MP Michael Moore. This bill proposes the UK Government honours its promise to commit 0.7% of the total budget to overseas aid, and pass a law to see this commitment made official.
Not completely sure what all of that means? I wasn’t either when I started writing this blog – but hopefully by the end of reading it you’ll have more understanding of what on earth a Private Members’ Bill is, and why I think we should be encouraging our MPs to turn up and save lives.
Ok so let’s start from the top – what’s a Private Members’ Bill? The video at the top of this article has a 60-second explanation.
As that video tells us, debates like these normally run out of time, so we need at least 100 MPs to turn up at the debate on Friday 12th – this would improve the chance of actually getting a vote on the bill.
But why should we want the bill in the first place?
I’m sure you’ve heard people saying things like:
“Help at home first”
“Aid makes poorer countries too dependent on richer countries”
“Aid just doesn’t get to the people it’s supposed to help”
I can understand some of these doubts. I’ve personally found the ‘help at home first’ argument the hardest to get my head around, as I can see that it is closest to the hearts of a lot of people in the UK during this current time of recession and difficulty and I can easily think of a young, unemployed person in the UK who needs support.
But then I think about a young, unemployed person with exactly the same problem but in a very different situation in a country that’s become close to my heart: India. I volunteered for three months in India as part of the International Citizen Service for 18- 25 year olds volunteering overseas with the charity Restless Development last winter, and working with young Indian volunteers who were trying to tackle poverty in their community I saw a clear example of how aid money can be used to simultaneously benefit both UK citizens, i.e. volunteers such as myself, as well as people in the developing countries.
My experience as a volunteer taught me a lot and of course shaped my opinion on aid. I learnt that simply throwing more money at a development situation does not necessarily bring progress. However, if the aid money is used to ensure the teams and individuals involved in delivering the aid are as skilled, well-trained and motivated as possible, then progress can really be made – I witnessed such positive impacts under these circumstances first hand!
I’ve also been inspired by seeing how the fight against poverty is gradually being won across the world – like another blog
on Global Citizen from the US which mentioned success in India and gives a little shout out for ‘the Brits’ for the example we’re setting the world by committing to 0.7% spending - we can’t let them down after that, can we?
This is one reason I support the 0.7% bill – it could fix a guarantee of UK aid (for now) and so allow the aid debate to move on and focus on the quality of aid being delivered, rather than the quantity. I believe this change would go a long way to maximising the potential of the UK’s foreign aid.
However, this issue and the upcoming debate could easily go unnoticed and pass most people by. If you agree that the Government should convert their 0.7% pledge into a law, then there a few simple ways you can get involved and take action!
1) Sign the petition of an organisation called ONE to support the bill:
2) Find out who your MP is at www.theyworkforyou.com, and check if they are already turning up at www.turnupsavelives.org.uk
a. If your MP is already turning up thank them on the hashtag #TurnUpSaveLives
b. If your MP hasn’t committed to turn up yet write to them - it’s their job to represent you! Tell them that you want them to support this issue too and how important it is that they attend the reading on Friday the 12th.
3) Tell friends and family who might not hear about this issue otherwise – why not direct them to this article and website, put the word out on social media, or engage them in a good old-fashioned conversation!
Let’s let the House of Commons know how we feel about this issue… I know I’ll be watching on Friday the 12th!
Ella McDermott, 19, volunteered on the International Citizen Service in India in 2013 with Restless Development, the youth-led international development agency.