Making a difference

Here is a copy of the recent article I wrote for Modern Gov magazine, about my work as  parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for International Development…

Investing in international development is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

This is what this coalition government firmly believes and that is why we have stood by our shared commitment to invest 0.7% of gross national income on development support.

I feel enormously privileged to be a minister at the Department for International Development (DfID), which is having such a positive and transformative impact on the lives of the world’s poorest people.

As the minister responsible for our work in Africa, I have seen for myself the life-changing impact the UK is making, especially in improving access to healthcare, education and in making countries self-sufficient through economic growth.

In the last year alone, the UK’s investment in development has enabled 30 million people to work their way out of poverty by providing access to financial services; prevented 13 million children and pregnant women from going hungry; reached 8.7 million people with emergency food assistance; and supported 6 million children – half of them girls – to go to primary school.

But as the UK meets its 0.7% commitment, it is clear that people need to see that we are spending money wisely, effectively and in the right places. That is why transparency and accountability are woven into everything we do, helping to achieve better value for money for UK taxpayers and improve the effectiveness of our work.

At DfID, our focus is very much on supporting countries who want to progress and move forward. We want to help create economies and societies that can grow; this is not just in their interest but ours also.

Prosperous and stable societies reduce the need for UK intervention and also open up potential markets for UK businesses to trade with.

Under the UK’s leadership, this summer’s G8 committed to doing just that by helping developing countries increase their ability to trade and maximise the income from their land, extractives and taxes – helping them to help themselves out of poverty.

A fundamental responsibility for DfID is always going to be to save the lives of those in imminent danger. We remain a leader in responding in global emergencies, such as providing vital humanitarian support to refugees of the conflicts in Syria and Somalia, responding to the food shortages in East Africa and the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy in Haiti.

But it is not just conflict and disaster that halts a country’s development. Our G8 Nutrition for Growth event saw donors pledge an unprecedented £2.7bn towards eliminating malnutrition – the biggest global killer of children under-five, which can also undermine the earning potential of adults by 10%.

Tackling poverty is impossible if half the population is left behind. We know that when a woman generates her own income she re-invests 90% of it in her family and community.

Sustainable development means giving women and girls equal access to education and jobs, ending violent and oppressive acts, allowing women the choice of who to marry and when to have children.

Improving the lives of girls and women is a top priority for DfID and as the government’s champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, it is particularly close to my heart.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is just one of the areas of abuse where we are taking a lead. FGM is one the worst kinds of gender violence, causing a lifetime of damage, sometimes even death.

Britain is backing the African-led drive to eliminate FGM by committing the biggest ever fund to tackling FGM, investment which will also benefit diaspora communities in the UK.

The prime minister also used his co-chairmanship of High Level Panel on Post 2015 Development to argue for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality, because what is good for girls and women is good for society as a whole.

The UK has never stood on the sidelines when it comes to its international responsibilities and with around 1.4 billion people around the world still living in poverty we cannot afford to start now.

The UK should be proud of what this country has done to help others less fortunate than us to live better lives, but there is still a long way to go.

The government will continue to work hard with international organisations and the governments of poorer countries to help end poverty and strive for the world we want.