This Thursday a thousand people from around the UK will be come to Westminster to lobby their MP on international development over a cup of tea.
With the attention grabbing headlines on overseas aid spending coming thick and fast in parts of the media, it seems nobody wants to hear a good news story on development.
This Thursday will see a very different kind of debate. A thousand people from around the UK will be coming to Westminster to lobby their MP on international development at Tea time for change.
Over a cup of tea, they will talk to their MPs about solutions to global poverty and the role the UK must play.
Organised by six of the UK’s largest development agencies – including ActionAid – it’s the first time since the election many MPs have heard, face to face, from their constituents on international development issues.
So what will their agenda be? Yes, it will include aid – a thank you for sticking to our 40 year old promise of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid by 2013 despite the changing economic landscape, and making that commitment law. The kind of aid that has helped enrol 46 million more African children in school in the last decade and given life saving access to free healthcare for one and a half million mothers and children under five in Sierra Leone.
Campaigners have fought long and hard for these commitments, and there is a firm cross party consensus on aid that David Cameron has staunchly defended in recent weeks, most recently at the G8.
But supporting development does not end with aid. Although it is essential now, aid on its own it will not end poverty. That’s why the conversations on Thursday will be about ‘justice’ – because this means tackling the root causes of poverty. Supporters will be talking about how we must help developing countries end their dependency on aid and stand on their own two feet.
Key to that discussion is tackling the tax dodging of multinationals that costs developing countries more every year than they receive in aid and shining a light on the payments companies make to governments. These issues aren’t just relevant in developing countries. As we’ve seen with the UK Uncut protests against Vodafone and Topshop, they’re of vital importance at home too.
There are signs that politicians are starting to get the message. Recently, Hillary Clinton convincingly set out the US agenda on the need for developing countries to build up their own tax bases at the OECD.
Promisingly, in May we also saw the announcement that the tax authorities in five African countries are to launch an unprecedented investigation into giant brewer SABMiller following an ActionAid report which found that the multinational avoided millions of pounds of taxes in Africa every year – depriving those governments of enough money to educate a quarter-of-a-million African children.
We’re looking for more on tax as part of the coalition government’s development agenda.
George Osborne said at the Conservative party’s 2009 conference:
“We will also target tax evasion and off-shore tax havens.”
We need to hold him to this promise and push for greater international progress on country by country reporting on tax compliance, at November’s G20 summit.
Strangely enough, progress on more long term changes to end poverty may be the way to silence the critics of overseas aid. It’s the conversation politicians can’t afford not to have with their constituents.
• Tea time for change, Thursday 9 June, 11am-4pm, Central Hall Westminster; visit www.teatimeforchange.org.uk.
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