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Finance & Innovation

The UK Must Be a Global Leader in Foreign Aid, Says Priti Patel


Priti Patel, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, offered a staunch defence of UK aid in a speech delivered at the Bond conference — a gathering of over 1,000 members of NGOs and civil society dedicated to international development.  Her words are a necessary reminder of the UK’s commitment to the world’s poorest. 

“It’s never been clearer to me that at times of crisis the world looks to Britain … not just for our support but for our leadership – which is, of course, underpinned by our commitment to UK aid,” she said.  

Read More: 12 Things Achieved by UK Aid That You'll Probably Never See in the Daily Mail

The speech focussed on the leading role the UK has played in responding to urgent humanitarian crises. 

“Yemen, North East Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan all stand on the precipice of disaster.” 

“There is an unprecedented humanitarian challenge: more than 20 million people across these four countries face starvation and famine. And at least 1.4 million children could starve to death this year.”

Currently, the UK is providing £100 million in new support in Somalia and another £100m million in South Sudan for 2017/18. It has also promised to match the first £5 million of public donations to the Disaster and Emergencies Committee's East Africa Crisis appeal. 

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However, the country’s response to these humanitarian emergencies is not without question. The British government is currently under scrutiny for its involvement in the conflict in Yemen, where British arms sold to Saudi Arabia have been used to bomb civilian populations. Save the Children reports that 2.2 million children living in Yemen are malnourished, while thousands have died from preventable diseases as aid agencies struggle to gain access to supply vital medicines. Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for International Development, recently warned the government that its complicity in the conflict jeopardises the humanitarian work funded by UK aid and the generosity of the British public. 

Read More: Yemen's Famine Is 'Beyond the Point of No Return,' UN Agency Warns

“The UK is leading an admirable response in providing critical funding to address the crises in Somalia and South Sudan, and we have given £100m in humanitarian aid to Yemen,” he wrote in The Independent. “However, these efforts are undermined by our failure to use our diplomatic muscle to address the root causes of this crisis, and convince our allies to move on from a counter-productive militaristic strategy that is devastating the country.  Surely this is an opportunity for “Global Britain” to put its mouth where its money is.” 

In her speech, Patel repeated the government’s stance that UK aid will continue to prioritise the world’s poorest in line with the national interest.  Most notably, Patel pointed to the work of small, local charities based in Britain who are often overlooked, but whose impact extends around the world. 

“I believe smaller organisations are a crucial part of the great British offer on international development.”

“Your organisations are found across our great country, in our towns and villages, often run by volunteers and highly valued and trusted by your local communities.”

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“Organisations such as Exeter Ethiopia Link who help thousands of children with disabilities to go to school in Ethiopia, by providing access to wheelchairs, through training for teachers and through support for parents.” 

To help support these grassroots organisations, Patel announced the Small Charities Challenge Fund, established to assist UK-registered charities with an annual income of less than £250,000.  The decision to support small organisations working at the frontlines of fighting poverty is an innovative step for the department, which will empower lesser-known charities to scale up their efforts. 

Emma Crump, Dhaka Ahsania Mission UK (DAM UK) Programme and Fund Manager said: 

As the sole employee of a small UK registered international development NGO working in Bangladesh, we fully welcome a fund specifically tailored to charities like ours. Small NGOs… often have minimal staff and resources yet carry out vital and unique work reaching some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities around the world.” 

In an age of urgent humanitarian crises, and the threat of major cuts to foreign aid from one of the world's richest countries, it is vital that a 'global' Britain — from the government to the grassroots — continues to uphold its commitments to the world’s poorest.