Bill Gates has urged Theresa May to protect aid spending in her general election manifesto, saying that any cuts would “cost lives” and undermine British influence in poor countries.
He said that the Department for International Development, with whom his Gates Foundation partners, is “widely recognised as one of the most effective, efficient, and innovative aid agencies in the world.”
“As someone who puts $5bn a year toward development aid, I have a strong interest in making sure that money is well spent,” he said in a speech on Wednesday at RUSI in London.
The Microsoft founder, who has committed most of his own fortune to improving philanthropy, criticised British newspapers for “suggesting the UK’s aid money isn’t being well spent”, and said he wanted instead “to make the case for the facts”.
Some Conservative backbenchers are calling for a cut in aid, currently £13.3bn a year, to finance greater spending on health, social care and defence. By law, the government must spend 0.7 per cent of gross national product on overseas aid, making the UK the only member of the G7 to meet that international target.
Protecting aid was a key personal commitment of David Cameron, who, having left parliament, is now leading a review into the effectiveness of development spending. Mrs May committed to upholding that level but only until the next general election, now to be held in June. Priti Patel, the international development secretary, has also promised to cut down on “wasteful” spending, without specifying how big she estimates the problem to be.
Mr Gates said in Wednesday’s speech that it would “never be possible to eliminate small-scale corruption or waste entirely, any more than we could eliminate waste from every government programme — or from every business, for that matter.”
The UK’s aid represented “long-term investments in the health and security of British citizens here at home,” he added — pointing to epidemics such as the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. Charities are currently looking to make a more vocal case for aid, following months of newspaper criticism of allegedly poorly-directed and corrupt expenditure.
The crossparty international development select committee of MPs has also criticised for-profit contractors, particularly Adam Smith International, for their use of public money, but said that the government should continue to meet the 0.7 per cent target.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, told the same event that she believed “passionately” in preserving the 0.7 per cent commitment. Doing so would show that the British people are “good global citizens” as the country prepares to leave the EU, she said.
This story has been amended to correct the name of Adam Smith International
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