Prior to becoming an MP, Jo had an extensive career in international development. She campaigned on a number of issues, ranging from an EU code of conduct for Arms Sales, to the removal of unfair tariffs that prevented developing countries from trading with the EU. As Head of Policy at Oxfam, Jo worked on the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, as well as advocating for all governments’ ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians around the world. Her dedication to humanitarian issues continued in Parliament, where Jo championed some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, such as through her work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria and her work with Tom Tugendhat MP – continued after Jo died by Alison McGovern MP – on the ‘Cost of Doing Nothing’ report.
The Foundation continues to champion Jo’s humanitarian legacy. Since 2017, we have worked closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (formerly the Department for International Development) on the development of the Jo Cox Memorial Grants. Through these grants, £10 million of funding has been provided to projects focusing on two fields Jo was passionate about: women’s empowerment and strengthening communities to predict and prevent identity-based violence, including mass atrocities. This grant programme is just one example of the transformative work that UK Aid has supported, and in doing so, made a difference to thousands of lives around the world.
In the wake of the FCO/ DFID merger, £2.9 billion of cuts to the 2020-21 Overseas Aid Budget were announced. Whilst a reduction in the overseas aid budget was inevitable due to the decrease in Gross National Income, the impact of this will already be widely felt. Further cuts will only compound the immense challenges faced by global communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. What is needed is support to navigate the recovery from Covid-19, and the other shared global challenges, instead of a revocation of commitments made.
The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that global issues require collaborative global responses. Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents will only become more prevalent as we move forwards in our much-changed world. We collectively face a growing number of global challenges, ranging from increasing global health emergencies, famine and natural disasters as the climate crisis worsens, as well as increased gender disparities that can emerge from crisis situations. It is vital that progress that the UK government has contributed to in these areas, such as the commitment to all girls receiving 12 years of quality education, is not lost as a result of cuts being made to the overseas aid budget.
The UK has not only a legal obligation, but a moral responsibility to support those who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We acknowledge that much has changed in the socio-economic context of both the UK and the world since the Conservative Party pledged to “… proudly maintain [their] commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development” in the 2019 Election Manifesto. Yet this change in financial and social circumstance should not negate the fundamental values we should be striving for as a nation: a commitment to equality for all, the protection of the most vulnerable and the advancement of human dignity. It is essential that the government maintains the 0.7% commitment in order to ensure this.