Justine Greening – 2015 Speech on International Aid


Below is the text of the speech made by Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, at Chatham House in London on 15 October 2015.

Introduction: A changing world

It’s great to be here at such a crucial time.

The UK’s international development policy is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do for Britain’s national interest.

And I know some Secretaries of State for International Development would stand here and give you a speech on the importance of international development, predicated on why eradicating grinding poverty is the right thing to do.

Some Secretaries of State for International Development would stand here and argue why the very same international development is the smart thing to do, and in Britain’s national interest – as if it were a totally different approach.

I want to argue today that our approach can be – and is – both right and smart at the same time.

I believe it’s a false choice to say we should either do the right thing OR the smart thing – because a strong, sensible international development approach will achieve both. That in responding to the needs of the poorest, we address our own too. That what benefits them, also benefits us.

Which is why 3 years ago I began a fundamental shift in our approach to aid – a change which is proving its worth right now.

As we approached the end of the Millennium Development Goals, it was clear we needed a changed approach.

We faced a growing youth population, countries in conflict who weren’t delivering on any of the goals on health and education, and an increasing number of humanitarian crises. It was clear there were huge emerging challenges that DFID needed to up its game on.

So when I made one of my very first speeches as International Development Secretary back in early 2013 I set out some key priorities. They were:

  • responding to crises and building resilience to disasters, while strengthening governance, peace and security – based on the knowledge that instability ends up on our own doorsteps, as the current refugee and migration crisis shows us only too vividly
  • boosting our work on economic development, because it is jobs and growth that enable countries to lift themselves out of poverty and aid dependency, while at the same time growing the markets and trading partners for Britain of the future
  • putting women and girls at the heart of everything we do, because no country can successfully develop if half its population is left behind and
  • a laser-like focus on better results and achieving much greater value for taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Running through all of these was an understanding that if we were to deal with the challenges we faced, we needed to deal with their root causes, and not just their symptoms.

Then, as now, we faced a complex and dangerous world.

In a changing world, we changed.

Today, we are seeing how our investment in international development is playing a major role in the UK’s ability to respond to the issues of the moment – whether they are the migration and refugee crisis or the rise of extremist terrorism.

I am going to talk to you about how this fundamental shift has not only benefitted the poorest and most in need across the world, but has benefitted Britain too.

Building stability

Tackling poverty and instability overseas means tackling the root causes of global problems that affect us here such as disease, migration, terrorism and climate change.

Whether we like it or not, if we don’t help sort out other countries’ problems today they become our problem too – threatening our national security. That’s why when it comes to the Syria crisis – now 4 years old – we took the decision to be there from day one.

So far we have given more than £1.1 billion, making us the largest single country donor to date, bar the US. This has paid for the basics: food, water, shelter, medical supplies.

But I have also set up the No Lost Generation initiative to ensure Syrian children continued to get an education. And DFID is pioneering brand new ways to promote livelihoods in the Syria region with the World Bank. All things that have enabled the vast majority of displaced Syrians to stay in the region.

To date, only around 4% of the total 12 million Syrians who have been displaced have sought asylum here in Europe. If that support wasn’t there many more would be attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and turning up on our doorsteps.

We were ahead of the curve in seeing the ramifications of not supporting those impacted by the conflict – and now we are staying the course, supporting those caught up in this crisis and the countries that are providing sanctuary to them.

It’s the right thing to do for Syrians caught up in a senseless, brutal war. But let’s not beat around the bush – it’s also the smart thing to do for British people.

Although at the beginning of the last Parliament we committed to invest 30% of our total spend in fragile states and conflict countries, we’ve gone beyond that and currently invest around 40%.

And of course the reality is that percentage needs to continue growing to reflect the challenges we face.

But stability is not only about war and conflict – it’s about working ‘upstream’ on a country’s underlying resilience too. It’s about the strength of their institutions – whether that’s the justice system or broader.

It’s about driving out corruption.

Corruption is bad for development, bad for the poorest, and bad for business. It corrodes the fabric of society and public institutions.

So we have significantly stepped up our work to reduce the impact of corruption.

We’re supporting justice systems, strengthening police forces.

Investing in resilience

Stability is also about ensuring countries are resilient when disaster strikes.

So we are investing significantly to improve the quality and speed of humanitarian responses in countries that we know are most at risk – and crucially ensuring they are better prepared.

For every £1 spent on disaster preparedness we save up to £7 on disaster clear-up. That’s why in Nepal we are ensuring schools are built to withstand earthquakes. In Africa we have helped countries pool together to get insurance against the impact of extreme weather.

In West Africa we have tackled the Ebola epidemic. When a deadly epidemic threatened an entire continent, we sent brave British men and women from the military, our NHS and my own DFID staff to the frontline to fight the disease at source.

In doing so we saved countless lives in Africa – and kept ourselves safe here too.

And last month the Prime Minster announced a 50% increase in our global climate finance commitments, helping poor countries both mitigate climate change and adapt to it.

We are able to do this because we’ve prioritised leading in emergencies, which has seen us create world-leading systems and expertise that are swift and flexible.

Our humanitarian and resilience work is built on a proud British tradition of helping people in the world in their hour of need. But it is also firmly in Britain’s interest.

Improving education and health

And of course, stability is also about health and education – because healthy, educated people help build strong economies.

That’s why we championed these areas in the last Parliament. For example, on malaria, the Chancellor made a commitment to up our game – from around £200 million to £500 million per year.

And that’s why in our recent manifesto the Prime Minister committed the UK Government to:

  • immunising 76 million children by 2020, saving 1.4 million lives
  • helping at least 11 million children in the poorest countries gain a decent education and
  • leading a global programme to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to eliminate the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.

It’s worth pointing out that malaria alone can consume 40% of a country’s healthcare bill. Imagine our NHS in that situation.

Helping countries develop economically

Alongside stability, what are the other challenges we needed to stay ahead of the curve on?

Back in 2012 when I set out a new economic development strategy at the London Stock Exchange no one was talking about a ‘youth bulge’. But it was clear to me that what young people growing up around the world needed was a job.

And in 2013 the World Bank predicted an extra 600 million jobs will be needed to absorb burgeoning working-age populations over the next 15 years.

Wherever you are in the world, people – especially young people – tell me they want the same thing: a job and the dignity of work.

In helping young people achieve their potential you help a country achieve its potential too. And it supports stability.

That’s why we have:

  • doubled our investment in jobs and growth to £1.8 billion
  • streamlined our work into one directorate in DFID and
  • worked with key multilaterals like the World Bank.

But there is more to be done.

The migration and refugee crisis of the summer shows us why this is such an urgent issue – people need opportunities in their home countries.

If we do not continue to invest in jobs and growth, more and more people will be driven to migrate, seeking work elsewhere, including in Europe. Countries will not be able to lift themselves out of poverty for good and ultimately they will remain reliant on the aid that we and others give.

That’s why we will continue stepping up our game in this area and why we will continue to tie it into our work on stability.

And I have two final points on economic development:

Firstly, of course when I talk about rights for women and girls there is no doubt in my mind that it is the right thing to do.

I believe women’s rights are the greatest unmet challenge of the 21st Century.

When we hear about the number of 8-year-olds being forced into marriage, the proportion of young girls from Somalia being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, the women being prevented from registering a business or even owning a mobile phone – no one can find those statistics acceptable.

But we should also look at the economic case.

How can a country successfully develop when half its population – its people, its most valuable asset – is excluded?

For those who think this a human rights agenda – you are right. But is also a business agenda. The business case is clear.

Investing in women and girls is one of our best buys. For example, every £1 spent on family planning can save governments up to £4 on healthcare spending, housing, water and other public services.

That is why women and girls will continue to be one of my key priorities and at the heart of everything my department does.

Secondly, there is a UK prosperity agenda here too. When we create jobs for others, in the end, that creates markets that can support UK jobs and UK exports.

Value for money

All of this means I am confident that we have been – and will continue to – spend on money on the right things. But as important is spending money in the right way.

When I arrived in DFID 3 years ago, I came armed with my accountant’s eye. Value for money is what I focused my 15-year business career on and I see no reason to change that in politics.

In those 3 years, I have created a more professional, accountable, transparent, value for money driven organisation – delivering for both the world’s poorest and the British taxpayer:

There is now one named person in charge of every programme and clear and simple rules and processes so everyone knows what they’re responsible for.

I’ve boosted the commercial capabilities of our staff – it is now mandatory for all senior civil servants to take a commercial leadership course.

I’ve strengthened our internal audit – so we’re reviewing programmes far more frequently and cutting ones that don’t deliver.

And I’ve expanded the use of by payment by results – with results-based aid now the norm for most of our contracts.

I’m proud that DFID is now being recognised for this, winning Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply awards for the last 3 years, beating public and private competition.

And we’re making savings. In total, we have made more than £400 million in savings in the last 4 years thanks to more effective procurement. That’s £400 million now being spent on improving lives and saving lives.

And we have increased scrutiny – not least from the online Development Tracker, our IDC select committee and the watchdog ICAI.

In Britain’s interest

So what does all of this mean for Britain?

I’ve always been clear that everything we do in DFID is firmly rooted in the UK’s national interest. It is something I have been focused on from the outset.

And I reject any argument that it’s somehow a choice between helping people overseas or helping people here in the UK.

As I said at the beginning, the right international development strategy will achieve both.

Our national interest has been served by having a long term economic plan – and sticking to it – because it’s enabled stronger investment, better healthcare and education, stronger institutions.

Part of that long term economic plan for Britain surely has to be a stable world and a strong global economy. When we invest in jobs and growth overseas we’re not only helping people overseas today, we are creating long term growth that is in Britain’s national interest.

When we’re supporting refugees in their home region or creating jobs, this government is tackling the root causes of migration.

When we’re fighting Ebola, the UK is stopping the spread of the disease to our shores.

When we’re fighting for women’s rights and education for girls, we are doubling the number of people who can build their own country’s future.

I’ll be frank: when I first came to DFID it felt like quite an isolated department, it was even located away from the rest of Whitehall.

Today that’s changed.

DFID operates at the heart of government – based in Whitehall – and our work has never been more clearly in the national interest.

And we’re working differently.

We have pulled in all the talents across government, not just from the Foreign Office, to help us pursue our agenda.

On any given day we’re working with:

  • HMRC tax inspectors
  • with the military to fight Ebola
  • with HMT to reform the international tax system
  • BIS on a joint trade policy
  • DECC and DEFRA to tackle climate change
  • The Met and City of London police to take on international corruption
  • or alongside the National Crime Agency to clamp down on the people traffickers operating in the Mediterranean.

And we’re working with them all to instil DFID’s best practise on ODA reporting, value for money and accountability.

That’s our new normal and DFID is stronger for the partnerships with other departments who are working alongside us.

A less mentioned reality is that all of this work inevitably grows our influence abroad.

Maybe that’s why when you look at the Soft Power Index – which looks at every country in the world and its intrinsic ability to influence – the UK comes out on top.

Looking ahead

Where do we go next?

Well, it will be about looking ahead and staying ahead of the curve, staying ahead of the long term trends that can make or break security and prosperity.

It’s about sensibly tackling the challenges of today.

We will continue to work with flexibility and innovation and in a way that helps both the world’s poorest and most vulnerable and in doing so serves our national interest.

Whether that is addressing the challenges that directly affect the UK, such as the ongoing crisis in Syria and the drivers of migration.

Tackling instability and conflict in fragile states to prevent them becoming safe havens for terrorists.

Building build jobs, growth and prosperity.

And it makes sense for Britain to continue using its unique historical ties for the benefit of development and diplomacy.


Today we deliver one of the most pioneering, inventive, 21st Century approaches to development anywhere in the world.

It’s an approach that improves the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable.

That makes the world a safer, healthier, more prosperous place.

That projects British values and influence overseas.

That serves the UK national interest.

When it comes to development, right now there is no country doing as much as us, as flexibly, as swiftly, as smartly.

Not just the right thing to do but also the smart thing for Britain, allowing us to stand tall in the world.

Our investment of 0.7% of our national income is 100% in our national interest.