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Cameron defends aid: The right and smart thing to do

Later today David Cameron will make a speech defending international aid. The Prime Minister is speaking from Nigeria, where he is promoting strong economic growth and trade as powerful tools for poverty reduction.

Save the Children welcomes the thrust of the speech: high growth rates sustained over a period of time can lead to poverty reduction. Some of the greatest successes in poverty reduction have occurred in regions with sustained, high growth.

The ‘right’ growth

However, the quality of growth is critical. At times growth has ingrained inequalities and failed to improve human development outcomes. A fast-growing economy alone will not necessarily improve education and health, especially among poor people.

For growth to translate into poverty reduction, governments and business must focus on investments that enable the benefits of growth to be shared equitably, combined with the right policy incentives and the ability to share risks. Pro-poor investment requires a strong state and regulatory environment.

Aid is vital

Countries with favourable initial conditions – agriculture development, educational attainment and low levels of income inequality, coupled with good governance and institutions – often have greater success at reducing poverty through economic growth.

While pro-poor investment is crucial as a driver of poverty reduction, it must be accompanied by sustained investment in essential services such as health and education. This is why aid remains vital.

Nigeria: aid works

In Nigeria, a country with 100 million people living on less than £1 a day, UK aid is:

  • helping to ensure that more children get a better education
  • enabling millions of people to set up a bank account and access financial services for their small businesses
  • helping to provide millions with access to safer water and sanitation
  • providing more family planning and better health services to stop women dying in childbirth.

Earlier this year the Nigerian Senate passed The National Health Bill. All that remains is for presidential assent to make the Bill a federal law. This Bill will make access to healthcare for mothers, newborns and children a legal requirement and is a major step forward in saving 800,000 children’s lives each year in Nigeria. 

But for the government to realise this commitment, and considerably scale up their health services, sustained international assistance will be vital. By using this aid well, the UK can also leverage other reforms, thereby supporting Nigeria’s eventual graduation off aid.   

Public support

Some in the UK media have claimed that there is growing discontent with aid. But in spite of hard economic times, Save the Children finds that British people are actually increasing their giving. Public donations to Save the Children have increased by nearly 10% in the last year.

In 2011, the general public gave over £100 million to the Comic Relief Red Nose Day appeal – its largest fundraising sum to date. On the first night alone it raised £74.3m, the highest figure reached on the night of the show in its 23-year history.  

End poverty

Save the Children believes that aid has an important role to play. Aid saves lives; it improves economic growth, creating jobs at home and abroad; and it can help to stabilise fragile and conflict-affected countries. We support David Cameron’s speech today, believing that when aid is combined with reforms in development policy, improved growth and trade, it can end poverty.

For more information on why giving aid is both the right and smart thing to do, see our new policy briefing.

This blog was written by Jessica Espey, in collaboration with Anthony Davis, Save the Children UK’s Private Sector Adviser.

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