EU referendum: what will it mean for global poverty? | ActionAid UK

Like many of you, over the past few months I have followed the ebb and flow of the EU referendum debate. Whatever side you take, it’s clear that the outcome will have a huge impact on the UK’s future. 

How people choose to vote is a personal decision in which they must weigh up a variety of issues. One of the issues we at ActionAid UK think has not been given much airtime is international development, and the possible ramifications of this decision for the world’s poorest people.

Sophia Abdi Noor, a Kenyan MP who fights for the rights of marginalised and repressed Kenyan women
ActionAid believes it's important for a vibrant democracy that all individuals, groups and organisations can actively participate in the debate (like Sophia Abdi Noor, pictured, in Kenya, who fights for the rights of marginalised Kenyan women)

At ActionAid UK, with our mission to work with the most excluded, often the poorest women and children around the world, we’ve been considering how the ripples will be felt by those in the countries in which we work. This has been prompted, as well, by a number of queries we have received from supporters asking for our views. So here I want to set out ActionAid UK’s view on the upcoming referendum.

On balance, a decision for the UK to leave the EU could have a negative impact on ActionAid’s UK’s mission to eradicate poverty and injustice.

We have analysed the available information (download our ‘EU and international development’ pdf here), and have taken the view that, on balance, a decision for the UK to leave the EU could have a negative impact on ActionAid’s UK’s mission to eradicate poverty and injustice.

We do this not to tell you how to vote, but to ensure that the widest range of views are expressed to allow voters to make an informed decision. There are at least three reasons that have led us to believe that the UK staying in the EU would be better for international development.

To end poverty we need stronger, not weaker collaboration

First, we believe that the unprecedented challenges facing our world today – ending poverty and inequality; responding to climate disasters like flooding and drought which cause hunger and suffering; ending deep and bitter conflicts – cannot be confined within borders and require stronger, not weaker international collaboration. As part of the EU, the UK plays an active role and adds its weight to a European community with global influence that is committed to human rights, equality and development.

As the world’s largest aid donor, and biggest trading bloc, decisions made in the EU have a direct impact on people living in poverty. By working through the EU the UK is able to focus European and global efforts on supporting women and children living in poverty, making sure companies pay their fair share of tax in poor countries, combatting climate change and responding to humanitarian emergencies. This critical and influential role would be lost if the UK left the European Union. 

As the world’s largest aid donor, and biggest trading bloc, decisions made in the EU have a direct impact on people living in poverty. 

A tangible example of the importance of greater, not less, international cooperation can be seen in the issue of tax. EU countries working together have taken steps to improve financial transparency, so that we are closer to ensuring that companies are paying their fair share of tax in the countries where they operate.  This is important for poverty reduction because corporate tax avoidance is estimated to cost developing countries $200 billion a year, with women and girls paying the price as schools and hospitals are starved of funding. The UK cannot act alone to solve this global problem of tax dodging.

Working together with Europe, we are more effective

Second, the power of the UK’s work to tackle poverty and help the poorest people in the world is amplified by being part of the EU. The EU’s aid agencies operate in 150 countries around the world, compared to the UK’s 28.  

This gives it an unmatched ability to tackle entrenched global issues, and we know that pooling aid funding together with others and working towards common objectives is more effective than each country working on its own. The sum is greater than its parts. 

UK civil society has a key role to play in mobilising people across Europe

Third, UK civil society has a long and proud history of contributing to cross-European civil society initiatives to set the development agenda and deliver change for the world’s poorest people. For example, last year UK civil society played a key role in mobilising huge numbers of people across Europe to secure a legally binding climate deal, making sure that the voices of women like Sabita, who lives on the front line of climate change in Bangladesh, are heard. 

Climate March London

Outside the EU, our shared endeavour as European citizens would be weakened.

Of course the EU is not perfect, and on many fronts it falls short of its commitment to human rights and development. But that is precisely why it is so important that your voice can still be heard in Brussels, as we continue to challenge the EU and members states to live up to their obligations to the world’s poorest.

Undoubtedly in a referendum such as this, some will disagree with our views. But we agree with the Electoral Commission that it is important for a vibrant democracy that all individuals, groups and organisations with a view should actively participate in the debate.

Whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, rest assured ActionAid UK will adapt and evolve and we will continue to rely on the incredible support of people like you to continue our work with women and children around the world to change lives for good. 

Learn more about ActionAid’s work

Photos: Jakob Dall/ActionAid, Kristian Buus/ActionAid.