Aid spend campaign intensifies

Oxfam and Bob Geldof's pressure group Data (Debt, Aid and Trade for Africa) is to launch a major press campaign this week in an increased effort to convince the Government to raise international aid spending in the run-up to the European and local elections.

Agencies including Action Aid, Save the Children and Oxfam are hoping the Government will bring forward spending announcements in an attempt to head off a meltdown in Labour's vote at the 10 June polls.

The agencies have already convinced 184 MPs to sign an early-day motion in support of their drive to raise aid spending to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product by 2008. More than 100,000 people have joined the campaign by writing or emailing the Chancellor demanding that he meet the pledge.

G7 finance ministers met in New York last weekend', where Gordon Brown again promoted his brainchild, the international financing facility - a special bond aimed at doubling G7 aid spending.

"We're still hoping there will be a dramatic increase in aid which is required to lift millions out of poverty, and a timetable toward the goal of 0.7 per cent of income," said Paul Collins of Action Aid.

"To be frank, the indicators are not very promising so far, even though DfID's own figures show that aid is effective in lifting millions of people out of poverty."

The next key event for development campaigners is the G8 summit in Georgia, USA, in early June. Some campaigners suspect that new commitments on aid will be postponed until after the Commission on Africa - with Geldof as its most high-profile member - reports its findings to the Prime Minister next year.

"The Government will say that it is still committed to increasing aid spending," said Collins. "But some money for middle-income countries has already been diverted because of the war. If more troops are sent to Iraq and military spending increases, that could start eating into aid commitments. We want action to match the rhetoric."

An Oxfam spokeswoman said that the Iraq war and the pre-election pressure to produce voter-friendly spending announcements could accelerate the hoped-for increase in aid spending.

"It depends if the Government believes that (aid spending) is what the electorate wants and that new, young voters are in sympathy with it," she said.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have already met the goal, and Ireland, Belgium and France have set target dates. Britain is currently committed to spending 0.4 per cent of GDP on aid by 2006.

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