This blog post is written by Campaign Champion Defne. She is part of a network of grassroots volunteers up and down UK who advocate for children’s rights and lobby MPs on a range of national and international issues.
Aid in the UK is a topical, albeit largely misunderstood, and misrepresented subject. The constant negative media coverage has resulted in numerous myths about UK aid, and as a result its status has consistently been threatened. However, it is a point of pride for me knowing that Britain’s achievements have saved countless lives and supported entire communities.
Since 2015, the UK has committed 0.7% of GNI to foreign aid spending, being one of the only G7 countries to meet this target. From giving emergency humanitarian assistance to conflict-ridden countries, to promoting immunisation campaigns, enhancing access to clean water, and championing girls’ education, for years the UK has been at the forefront of international development. The most powerful potential of aid lies in its ability to transform people’s lives by helping bring about long-lasting structural solutions to poverty. As such, aid is not just about the vaccine, but the immunisation which ultimately leads to aid no longer being necessary.
What motivates me to campaign for UK aid at the grassroots level is the importance of the community in changemaking and holding elected representatives to account. From canvassing and speaking to other constituents, I identified with the generosity and compassion in the public who support UK aid. I documented what people shared as the experiences and moments that mattered most to them, such as their first day of school, learning how to read or ride a bike, or the birth of their first child. This powerfully demonstrated the belief that everyone should get to enjoy these experiences, no matter their birthplace.
Pride in Britain doesn’t mean shutting it off from the world, but rather embracing our responsibility to other humans and to be an overall force for good in the world. My experiences of campaigning have been a testament to the powerful impact that individuals can have when ordinary people come together to share their experiences.
I met with my MP, Greg Hands, in September to lobby him to use his platform to support justice for the Rohingya community. Securing this meeting was the culmination of our campaign efforts, to demonstrate the palpable support from across the constituency for the provision of aid which would be crucial to the survival of displaced Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh. As a minister for international trade, my MP was keen to emphasise Britain’s global standing as a humanitarian leader, and expressed the government’s commitment to upholding international law in Myanmar. Crucially, he reiterated the value of the 0.7% aid budget, indicating this would remain unchanged. I left the meeting with a sense of hopefulness, that I had secured a commitment from my MP to take up the fight to the Foreign Office, and taken an important step to ensuring that Rohingya refugees would have access to aid. However, it has since saddened me to see that the UK may now refuse to honour its commitments during a global pandemic.
It is for this reason that I am left increasingly disheartened by a UK leadership that seems to be intent on turning inwards; using the COVID-19 pandemic to justify cutting back on commitments to vulnerable people both at home and abroad. Turning our backs on the international community is not a reflection of the will of the public as I have witnessed it; for my part, I will continue to do my bit to connect with my community, and challenge the government to stand up to their manifesto pledges for aid. This won’t be an easy task given the current political and economic climate, but as campaigners and citizens alike we should not let this discourage us from continuing to pursue our goals for the fairer future we deserve.