Development aid: Stakes are high as Theresa May attempts to form new government

by Tim Pilkington | World Vision UK
Monday, 19 June 2017 12:37 GMT

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, speaks outside 10 Downing Street, following the attack at Finsury Park Mosque, in central London, Britain June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If we are to change how we deliver aid, we will need to take greater risks and bring together different actors in new and innovative partnerships

So Theresa May has squeaked in for another five years. It’s a momentous moment -- as we start to navigate our way through complex changes in our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. What will this new Global Britain look like -- particularly for the world's most vulnerable children

Wisely, the last government recognised the enormous value the UK aid programme delivers in some of the most difficult places on earth. During the election campaign, the Conservative Party reaffirmed our commitment to meet aid promises throughout this new parliament.

The Conservatives also flagged their intention to reform how UK aid money is spent. In their manifesto, they pledged to work with like-minded countries to 'change the rules' on development spending. But, they warned, if a deal could not be struck the government would change the law in the UK. Fortunately, without an overall parliamentary majority this would be extremely difficult.

Clearly, the world is changing and with it the ugly face of poverty and vulnerability. We need to find creative ways of working with other nations on emerging challenges such as mass migration. This is most important for those at risk of being left behind, especially children and people affected by conflict. It won't be easy but the best progress will come through co-operation, not retreat into isolationism. This is no time to go it alone.

The UK government has shown global leadership in tackling poverty. It has worked on the causes of fragility and fight forms of violence against children - like child marriage and sexual violence in conflict. It has been ahead of the curve in recognising the growing importance of faith groups and businesses.

This gives us a great platform to face today’s development challenges with a modern 'people and poverty' focused aid programme. The new government must progress this in a way that ensures the voices of the world’s most vulnerable children and adults are always at the centre.  In a globally connected world, there's no doubt this will also have positive flow-on effects for our health, security and prosperity here in the UK.

The stakes are high. The number of people needing food assistance across the world has risen from 70 to 108 million -- more than any time in modern history. In East Africa, 22 million people now face famine -- and over a million children are at risk of dying from starvation in the coming months. This will be the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.

UK aid enables us to address this appalling situation and others like it. It reaches millions of people living in conditions of extreme deprivation, often in places ravaged by war, famine or other disasters. It provides medicine and clean water to prevent children from dying, homes for the homeless, education where there are no schools. It protects girls, boys and vulnerable adults from abuse, exploitation and violence. Above all, it restores people's dignity, frees them from fear and gives them the tools to fulfil their potential.

Many international development charities work with people in the most desperate circumstances as an expression of faith. Christian charities like World Vision UK, follow Jesus, who taught us to 'love your neighbour as you love yourself'. Similar messages can be found in other faiths and these values are shared by all who live their lives with a commitment to the common good. If this is what we value in our families and our communities, then it should also frame the way we lead in the world.

You cannot look at images of starving children in East Africa, without a deep sense of shock. For many, faith drives us to act. But no-one with a moral compass can just stand by. We know, at our core, that no one should suffer like this. We all know that tragedies like this should not -- must not -- happen anywhere in the world. And we all know that, as fellow human beings, we have a duty to do what we can to stop them.

The passion, expertise, and leadership of the British aid programme is widely recognised. It is also experienced directly in communities across the world. Overnight, the political landscape has become more complex. However, if we are to change how we deliver aid, we will need to take greater risks and bring together different actors in new and innovative partnerships.

Focussing our aid on ending poverty and reducing vulnerability is not only the way of the good neighbour. It's also a way for Britain to play a truly global role as a force for good in the world. After all, don't we all benefit in the long-run from investing in a world where the treasure of our hearts and the measure of our wealth is the happiness and well-being of all children?

Tim Pilkington is CEO of World Vision UK.