Bill Gates has urged Britain to stick to its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid amid speculation that Theresa May could scrap the pledge in the Tories’ election manifesto.
The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist said aid spending is not entirely altruistic and helps the UK achieve its strategic goals such as reducing global outbreaks of infectious diseases or avoiding war and large-scale migration.
He said the British people would be proud of the country’s aid spending if they could see its impact first hand – “uplifting countries, creating stability and preventing pandemics”. It comes with the Government under pressure from some quarters to scrap the 0.7% target, which was put into law with the backing of the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2015.
“In the case of the UK government, aid is under 2% of the budget – it’s 0.7% of GDP, and applied in places where the interventions are at least a hundred times more effective than anything you’d do domestically,” Mr Gates told the Spectator.
“If you can’t save a life for less than 1,000 dollars, it’s not done.
“Nor is it done unless there’s a strategic goal – in terms of reducing pandemics, or creating stability to avoid war and migration. “So you’re getting something back, avoiding problems for the UK and in particular the US.
“It would cost money to have a pandemic come out of Africa, it would cost money to have mass migration.”
In a separate interview with the Guardian, Mr Gates said efforts to eradicate malaria could falter without UK support. “Malaria has always been the disease we really want to take on and the UK has always in terms of research capacity and aid been a leader,” he said.
“In terms of where the aid ambition gets set, the UK can be a huge leader in driving that malaria eradication, or the world may have to back off and not get started on that.”
Mrs May has hinted that she might drop the 0.7% commitment.
Asked if it would be included in the Tory manifesto for the June 8 snap election, the Prime Minister told the Sun: “You’ll have to wait, and read the manifesto when it comes, won’t you?”
Mr Gates questioned whether the UK was stepping away from its international commitments amid the backdrop of Brexit.
“It is a choice as the UK steps away from the EU, are you just getting away from the rule setting on migration and tariffs, or is it a statement about stepping away from the entire world, and being generous to others,” he said.
“So, will Mrs May recommit to the high impact the current level (of aid spending) is providing?”