LONDON (AlertNet) - Aid groups welcomed confirmation from the British government on Wednesday that it will spend 0.7 percent of national income on international development in the coming financial year, making it the first G8 country to meet the longstanding U.N. target.
"We should all take pride, as I do, in this historic achievement for our country," Britain's finance minister, George Osborne, said in a statement to parliament on the 2013 budget.
But in a time of fiscal austerity, when the spending of most government departments is being cut, the budget of the Department for International Development (DFID) "will be adjusted to ensure we don’t spend more than 0.7 percent", he added.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the announcement makes the UK the first country in the Group of Eight wealthy nations - which also includes the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia - "to keep our promise to the world’s poorest people".
According to 2011 data from Development Initiatives, only five rich countries - Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands - have reached or exceeded the international target for 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to be spent on official development assistance, first set in a 1970 U.N. General Assembly resolution.
"Achieving this pledge is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart investment for Britain too, as a group of our top CEOs (chief executive officers) has recently made clear. International development is in our interests not just because it creates new markets, but because it can deliver a more balanced, resilient global economy," Greening said.
"Our ultimate aim is an end to aid dependency through growth and jobs," she added.
BRITAIN "SHOWING LEADERSHIP"
UK-based international development charities said the government was showing leadership in tackling poverty and malnutrition in poorer countries.
“This decision to meet Britain’s aid promise won’t just change lives, it will save lives," Ben Phillips, Oxfam’s director of campaigns, said in a statement. "Millions of children in poorer countries will now survive illnesses, go to school and have enough to eat because of the difference that Britain has made today."
The UK office of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said British aid money was helping it to deliver nutrition, drinking water, vaccines, education, clothing and protection to millions of children affected by the crisis in Syria, to ensure they do not become "a lost generation".
"0.7 percent is a tiny amount of our GNI but as we are seeing in Syria it can have a colossal impact on ordinary children’s lives," said David Bull, UNICEF UK’s executive director.
Justin Byworth, chief executive of the international children's charity World Vision, recognised that Britain faces its own economic challenges. "But in a world where one in eight children will go to bed hungry tonight, we must keep our own challenges in perspective," he said. "Setting aside a tiny amount of our budget is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do because we know that aid works. It has already helped save five million children's lives a year.”
Christian Aid welcomed delivery of "a 40-year-old promise to the world’s poorest". But it said the British government had missed an opportunity in the budget to use tax reform to help reduce developing countries’ reliance on aid.
"The Treasury could have helped poor countries collect more of the tax they are owed, by requiring multinationals to reveal the tax avoidance schemes they are using in the developing world," said Christian Aid Director Loretta Minghella.
The charity estimates that poor nations currently lose $160 billion a year due to tax dodging by multinational companies, far more than they receive in foreign aid. It urged Britain to lead "ambitious global action" on tax avoidance at the G8 summit it is hosting in June.