Five reasons Britain should be proud of its aid budget | ActionAid UK

The generosity and commitment of Britain is transforming the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. On Monday 13th June 2016 there will be a Parliamentary debate about the UK’s aid budget and whether the legislation that enshrines it in law should be scrapped. Here are a few reasons why I believe Britain’s proud legacy of helping people around the world should be built upon, not diminished.

 
School children from Miyuyu Primary School in Tanzania play after lessons
School children from Miyuyu Primary School in Tanzania play after lessons

I grew up in India and saw the devastating impacts of poverty firsthand, such as the exclusion and discrimination experienced by people from the Dalit community in India, especially the women and girls.

However across a long career, I have seen the difference aid can make - especially when it is part of an approach that focuses on building people’s capacity to help themselves out of poverty, and goes hand in hand with work to ensure that poor countries are not held back by global challenges such as tax dodging, climate change or inequality.

Getting girls into school

Education is vital to learning about the world, to getting a job and to helping a child realise their potential. It’s particularly important for young girls. Girls who have the chance to finish school will be better able to support themselves and their children, and in turn able to pass on their knowledge and contribute to the success of their families, communities and societies.  

Yet today there are 66 million girls around the world who do not have access to education. Expensive school fees, families prioritising boys’ education, inadequate sanitation facilities and violence all prevent girls from attending schools every day. 

But we can change this. Since 2011, UK-aid funded programmes have helped five million girls around the world into school. And in 2014, the UK Aid Match scheme allowed ActionAid to launch our SheCANcampaign to help women and girls to escape poverty and violence and live their lives without fear.

Since 2011, UK-aid funded programmes have helped five million girls around the world into school.

10-year-old Margaret is one of the girls we helped. She lives with her family on the Mwakirunge dumpsite just outside Mombasa in Kenya, where she wades through rubbish, broken glass and toxic waste, collecting scrap metal and plastic to sell to earn a living.

With ActionAid's support, Margaret now attends school. Her favourite subjects are Maths, English and Science.

Margaret, age 10, attends school near Mwakirunge Dumpsite, Mombasa

Margaret told us: "My dream is to leave it all behind and be able to buy a house for my mother and brothers far away. When I finish school I want to be a teacher."

Responding to humanitarian disasters

In 2015, the Nepal earthquakes devastated communities in some of the remotest parts of the Himalayas. ActionAid and the UK government worked to distribute food and emergency shelter to isolated areas and helped re-establish livelihoods and farming.

Five-year-old Krishla was badly hurt in the quake. Her friend was killed when they were buried under rubble of their home collapsing onto them. ActionAid supported Krishla's family with emergency aid, and thankfully Krishla's injuries have fully healed.

Nepal earthquake 6 months on

Krishla's mum, Rama, 32, told us, "She has recovered from her injury. I am happy that both my daughters have recovered from the trauma."

Since the earthquakes, ActionAid has provided food support to 18,500 families, and emergency shelter to 7,000 families. We’ve also worked closely with local organisations to ensure that the reconstruction effort hears their voices and responds to their needs. 

Over the past five years, UK humanitarian assistance has reached over 13 million people around the world with emergency food assistance, including 5.5 million women and girls. The UK also led the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, committing £427 million to ending the epidemic.

Over the past five years, UK humanitarian assistance has reached over 13 million people around the world with emergency food assistance, including 5.5 million women and girls.

Without this vital work, many lives would be at risk. UK aid is helping people not just recover from disaster, but to plan ahead for the future. 

Helping women access health care

Healthcare is important for everyone, but women and girls are most affected when it’s in short supply. Childbirth means that women are far more likely to need life-saving healthcare than men, as does the the appallingly high prevalence of violence against women globally. 

As women commonly bear the responsibility for care of children, the sick and the elderly, they bear the burden of finding healthcare for the young and the vulnerable.

Since 2011, UK aid has provided midwives or medical professionals at 5.1 million births. This can mean the difference between life and death. 

UK aid also made it possible for more than 150 NHS volunteers to work on the frontline during the Ebola epidemic and train more than 4,000 staff in Sierra Leone.

Iye Mammy, 25, with her newborn baby (centre) and nurse Mary Angela (left), 51

Since 2011, UK aid has provided midwives or medical professionals at 5.1 million births. This can mean the difference between life and death. ​

ActionAid works to support women to access to healthcare and family planning education. In Sierra Leone, where one in seven women could die in childbirth, we helped to build a medical centre to help women give birth during the Ebola epidemic.

Ending hunger

Every day, from Bangladesh to Somaliland, millions of women living in extreme poverty struggle to grow or buy enough food to feed their children.

But over the past five years the UK has reached 28.5 million children under five and pregnant women through nutrition programmes. That means millions of lives changed for the better. Without this, they would have gone hungry.

ActionAid helps women all over the world to feed their families; not just for the short term, but long into the future. By helping women to claim their rights and learn new skills we can deliver long term change.

Over the past five years the UK has reached 28.5 million children under five and pregnant women through nutrition programmes. That means millions of lives changed for the better.

Kapchorwa women farmers group

In Uganda in 2015, ActionAid used UK aid to train 3,385 women farmers to use methods such as irrigation and crop preservation to grow more food. This provided them with vegetables for the community and to sell - boosting their income and providing greater financial independence.

Long-term change

We must also look to a day when aid is no longer needed. That’s why ActionAid works on issues like climate change, tax, and women’s rights; to ensure that today’s poor countries are able to develop and grow. In order to escape poverty, people must be able to adapt to the changing climate, raise a fair share of tax to fund public services, and make sure that none of their citizens are held back from contributing to their success due to discrimination. 

Aid is precious - it has the capacity to transform lives. Both we and the Government have a duty to ensure every penny is spent wisely. That’s why we’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure it goes to helping the people who need it most. We should never lose sight of the difference we can make. 

Britain should be proud of its role in tackling poverty around the world. By supporting the aid budget we are helping millions of the world’s poorest people. UK aid isn’t just about responding to emergencies today - handing out food parcels or emergency medicine - it is about changing lives for good.

By getting girls into school, helping to build new businesses and job opportunities, and supporting women to claim their rights, we are helping communities to build their own futures, free from aid.

Ahead of the Parliament debate on aid, we'd love your help spreading the word about why we should be #ProudOfAid - if you agree, please share this blog on your favourite social channels.

Photos: Kate Holt/ActionAid, Kishor K. Sharma/ActionAid, Greg Funnell/ActionAid.