Oxfam is running a campaign to get more people volunteering in their charity shops asking people to ‘give a shift’ during the week to help sort donations and man the tills. On my visit I met Doreen who has given more shifts than most. She has worked at Oxfam Newbury for 42 years and although she has now stopped coming in on her bicycle, she shows no sign of giving up. Oxfam and countless other charities depend on the goodwill and generosity of people like her – as do, further down the line, the deprived and vulnerable communities that they support around the world.
It got me thinking about the UK’s continuing commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid. At a meeting in my constituency last week, a question was asked about funding for the NHS and it was followed by the accusation, ‘we should be looking after our own rather than sending millions of pounds overseas.’
Foreign aid gets a bad press. Every time there is a scandal – or potential scandal – about aid going to undeserving or dodgy places the newspapers have a field day. Scrutiny is obviously vital but the fact remains that the fundamental aim of our international aid budget is to improve the lot of communities around the world. And if you do that successfully, then you take away the prime reason why people make the agonising decision to uproot from friends and family, leave the country of their birth and risk life and limb to travel thousands of miles in search of a better life elsewhere.
Education is one aspect of this strategy. Educated populations are an essential element of prosperous and stable countries and the UK is a world leader in support for education in developing countries. Between 2015 and 2017 we supported over 7 million children in some of the toughest places in the world. This week the Secretary of State has announced that the UK will boost its contribution to the Global Partnership for Education to £75 million per year for the next three years which will provide quality education to a further 880,000 children a year. DFID’s stated aims for aid to education are to drive up the quality of teaching in developing countries, to support their education systems to stand on their own two feet and to give priority to children affected by disabilities, those in crisis areas and to the education of girls. I know that many schools in West Berkshire support the ‘Send my Friend to School’ campaign and it’s good to see how passionate our children are about helping others to get an education as good as theirs. I predict that they will definitely ‘give a shift’ when their time comes and that will benefit both the developing areas of the world and this country.