Global Malnutrition: FCDO Role — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 8th December 2020.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 9:30 am, 8th December 2020

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call-list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones, using the cleaning materials provided, before they use them and should dispose of those materials as they leave the room. Members are asked to respect the one-way system around the room and exit by the door on the left. Members should speak only from the horseshoe. Members may speak only if they are on the call list. That applies even if the debate is undersubscribed. Members may not join the debate if they are not on the call list. I remind Members that they must arrive for the start of a debate in Westminster Hall—obviously, you are all here, so this is just for future reference—and Members are not expected to remain for the winding-up speeches, but are certainly not discouraged from remaining for them.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 9:31 am, 8th December 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s role in tackling global malnutrition.

It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the application in my name and that of David Mundell. We originally sought the debate pre-lockdown as co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on nutrition for growth. The group has been campaigning now for almost two years for the UK Government to make a strong early pledge on nutrition for growth, with the reliable multi-year funding and policy reforms that will increase the impact of the FCDO’s work.

To be honest, I rather hoped that the campaign would be complete by now. The N4G summit was supposed to take place this month, and we hoped that the UK would have pledged early. The summit has understandably been postponed by a year as a result of the pandemic. In the meantime, however, UK commitments on nutrition expire at the end of 2020, just as covid-19 is causing malnutrition cases to skyrocket.

Up to 10,000 more children are predicted to die because of undernutrition each month in 2020 than was predicted pre-covid-19. Stunting, which before the pandemic affected one fifth of children under the age of five, is set to rise dramatically unless urgent action is taken. Therefore, we are not where we wanted to be at this stage, but that is understandable. Covid-19 has disrupted the FCDO’s work in the N4G process in a way that none of us could have foreseen. We did meet the Minister back in May, and she assured us that progress was being made. I hope that, in response to today’s debate, she will be able to demonstrate some of the steps that her Department is taking.

Nutrition is a foundational investment in people. A child who suffers malnutrition in their early years is less likely to develop a strong immune system and, as a result, is more likely to fall ill and, indeed, to die. As well as costing lives, malnutrition holds people back. A child who is more likely to fall ill will get less from their education and is therefore less likely to meet their economic potential in adulthood.

In regions such as east Africa, where almost 40% of children suffer from stunting, countries are held back by malnutrition as they haemorrhage money on avoidable healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that malnutrition costs some countries up to 11% of GDP each year.

In his speech addressing the cuts to the official development assistance budget, the Foreign Secretary set out his Department’s priorities. I argue that nutrition is central to each one and I therefore hope that it will remain a priority. Let us look first at climate change. Climate change adversely impacts food systems, but food systems also emit 20% to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so the Foreign Secretary will need to look at reforming food systems to become both climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive.

Secondly, on covid-19, we have all been thrilled by the news of the vaccines, the administering of which started this morning. However, vaccines are often less effective on malnourished people. An article in The Telegraph, which I must confess I am not an avid reader of, confirmed that that is likely to be the case with any covid-19 vaccine. Malnutrition is also a risk factor for developing severe covid-19 symptoms.

Thirdly, on girls’ education, malnutrition disproportionately affects girls, and it is estimated that malnourished children are 19% less likely to be able to read at the age of eight and 13% less likely to be at the appropriate grade for their age. Put simply, the Government cannot meet their objectives on girls’ education without prioritising nutrition.

Fourthly, on resolving conflicts and alleviating crises, conflicts and malnutrition mutually reinforce each other. It is no coincidence that 80% of stunted children live in conflict zones, so any UK aid programmes in a fragile context must invest in long-term nutrition improvement.

Finally, on the issue of strengthening accountability and value for money, according to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, nutrition is one of the most cost-effective development actions with significant economic returns. If the Minister wants to invest in proven high-impact interventions that represent excellent value for money, nutrition is very much a safe bet. The fact that nutrition is so foundational is what makes it so important, but it also makes it a challenge to invest in. Nutrition is relevant to health, education, agriculture, economic development and climate. Without processes in place to ensure that nutrition is embedded into the Department’s work in those areas, there is, I am afraid, a real risk that nutrition becomes everyone’s problem, but no one’s responsibility.

There are numerous cost-free steps that the Minister could take to ensure that nutrition is more effectively embedded across the FCDO’s work. First, will she re-commit to reach 50 million women, adolescent girls and children with high impact nutrition interventions over the next four years? Secondly, will she implement the policy marker for nutrition across all relevant parts of the FCDO’s work, and set percentage targets for its work in other areas to meet nutrition outcomes? Thirdly, will she ensure that at least £680 million-worth of FCDO spend in other areas is adapted to include nutrition outcomes?

Such changes would embed nutrition into the FCDO and improve value for money across the piece. However, basic nutrition financing is also important. Reliable multi-year funding for Governments and implementing agencies would allow them to plan and maximise value for money and impact. We call on the Government to pledge at least £120 million each year to nutrition-specific interventions between 2021 and 2025. That is less than the Government spent on nutrition in 2017-18, but is ambitious enough to make meaningful progress. Will the Minister agree to that financial pledge today, or at least set a timeline for when she will make a financial pledge?

I will wrap up by saying that the UK has been a global leader in tackling malnutrition. As a Scottish nationalist MP, it is not my modus operandi to routinely praise the UK Government, but this issue is far too important for party politics. It was the UK Government that hosted the first Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013—the most successful global nutrition summit ever. Governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector pledged more than £17 billion to end malnutrition, representing a 33% global uplift in nutrition spending, and rates of malnutrition have steadily decreased ever since.

The UK can be immensely proud of its record on nutrition. Its leadership has galvanised others and meaningfully changed the lives of millions of people around the world, making us all safer and better off, so I hope the Minister can demonstrate that the UK’s commitment to leadership will not wane at a time when it is more needed than ever. I look forward to her summing up on behalf of the Government.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

It might be helpful if I tell colleagues that I plan to get to the Front-Bench speakers at no later than 10.30 am. I am not setting a formal time limit. I have six people looking to catch my eye, so, as a guide, if they take eight minutes each, I will not have to impose a limit. I call Christian Matheson.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:39 am, 8th December 2020

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I declare an interest because, a couple of years ago, I visited health and vaccination programmes in Ethiopia, and the visit was paid for by the advocacy group, RESULTS UK, which has helped me with some of the information for my speech today. I congratulate my good friend, David Linden, on his excellent introductory speech.

The context in which we meet today is an unfortunate one. The Government have recently announced that they are walking away from the legal commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development aid support, reducing it to 0.5%. Of course, it would have been 0.7% of a smaller amount, anyway, so it is a double whammy. In fact, we get a triple whammy with the abolition of the Department for International Development, which sends out completely the wrong message at this time. It is all well and good telling scare stories about aid and space programmes in India and the such like, but as my friend the hon. Member for Glasgow East said, this is about life-changing and life-critical decisions that have real-life consequences for hundreds, thousands and millions of people across the globe. As he said, the great tragedy is that the Government would have some good stories to tell if only they had the confidence to believe in the importance of development aid assistance and overseas development and if only they had the confidence to stand up to the naysayers on their own side and say, “Actually, this is the right thing to do, and we have a good story to tell.”

The UK has indeed been a global leader on nutrition since it hosted the first Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013, which raised more than £17 billion—a 33% uplift in global nutrition spending—and rates of malnutrition have steadily declined as a result. The number of children under five suffering from irreversible stunting, which has lifelong health implications, has reduced from 170 million in 2010 to 144 million in 2019, although, Mr Davies, I think you would agree that a figure of more than 100 million youngsters having lifelong conditions is horrendous. However, that does mark progress, but covid-19 threatens to undo all those hard-won gains. Many of the world’s poorest people cannot work from home and most Governments cannot support them through furlough schemes. Food prices are soaring and, for most people, the threat of hunger and malnutrition is far greater than the threat of the virus itself.

Additionally, as health systems have redeployed resources to address covid-19, other areas of health, such as nutrition, have been under-resourced. UNICEF reports a 30% reduction in the coverage of nutrition programmes. In some countries, coverage is reduced by as much as 75%. As a result, an additional 10,000 children will die from malnutrition each month this year. The number of children suffering from wasting—being dangerously underweight—is likely to increase from 47 million to 53 million and the head of the UN World Food Programme warned at the Security Council that covid-19 could lead to a famine of biblical proportions.

Although I recognise DFID’s work to tackle covid-19-induced food security, food security and nutrition are not the same thing. None of us wants to bring up a child exclusively eating carbohydrates because of the obvious health implications. Unless the Government prioritise nutrition alongside their ambitious food security work, they risk turning an immediate economic crisis into a protracted health crisis. At this critical time, not only is the coronavirus reversing years of progress on nutrition, so is the disruption to the FCDO’s work and to the nutrition for growth process as a whole.

The Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit at which we had hoped the FCDO would renew its commitment to nutrition has been postponed by a year. The Government have carried out just a one-year spending review and announced their intention to cut the aid budget, making reliable multi-year FCDO financing of nutrition even more difficult. I understand that the Governments of Canada and Bangladesh have stepped in and are hosting an event next week and launching 2021 as a year of action for nutrition. I hope the Minister will attend and announce what action the Government intend to take in the year of action. Perhaps she can share her Department’s plans for that event when she wraps up the debate.

I am worried by the cliff edge in the FCDO’s nutrition commitments at the end of the year. Will the Minister share her predictions for what official development assistance will be for basic nutrition from the start of 2021? How will she mitigate the effects of any drop in nutrition financing and ensure it is for as short as time as possible? Does she agree that the FCDO will have to prioritise nutrition in order to meet the Government’s manifesto commitments to end preventable deaths by 2030 and ensure 12 years of quality education for every girl? Will she commit to spending £120 million on nutrition-specific interventions each year between 2021 and 2025, and will she ensure that spending of at least £680 million of the FCDO’s work in other areas includes nutrition objectives?

Will the Minister commit to reaching 50 million women, children and adolescent girls with high-impact nutrition interventions? As the hon. Member for Glasgow East said, women and girls are disproportionately adversely affected by this particular crisis. Will she develop a nutrition-sensitive investment case, and can she set percentage targets for the FCDO’s work in other areas to meet nutrition outcomes? If she cannot make any commitment in response to the debate today, I hope that at the very least she will set out a timeline by which the UK will meet these pledges.

With covid-19 wreaking havoc on health systems and economies around the world, it is more important than ever that the international community ramps up efforts on nutrition. I hope that the UK can display some of its historic leadership in this space at a time when it is needed more than ever. However, the Government are signalling that they are pedalling back on a commitment to development and aid. That is the wrong signal at absolutely the wrong time, and the consequences really are a matter of life and death for millions of people.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 9:45 am, 8th December 2020

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I am particularly grateful to David Linden, not only for his work in securing this debate on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s role in tackling global malnutrition, but for all his efforts as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nutrition for growth. As co-chair of that group, I know that he has been at the forefront of the push for a pledge from the Government for a multi-year settlement on nutrition for growth. When he and I appeared before the Backbench Business Committee to argue for this debate, these were not the circumstances in which we envisaged it taking place, but we were clear that it was important that this issue is highlighted.

I commend to you, Mr Davies, and other Members present an excellent article that appears in The Herald today, which is headed, “Britain must not lose sight of those who go to sleep hungry”, with the by-line, “For many, malnutrition can pose a greater threat than covid”. I think we have already heard that in contributions to the debate.

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow East, I am concerned that the pledge has not yet been made and worried that UK support for nutrition faces a potential financial cliff edge in a few days. This debate provides the Minister with an opportunity to respond to those concerns. I know from my own direct experience of working with her—not in this House, but in Rwanda as part of what was then the Conservative party’s development programme, Project Umubano—her own level of personal commitment to development. I also know, from our own meetings with her, that she will pursue this issue, but we need action.

As Christian Matheson said, it was recently announced by the Canadian and Bangladeshi Governments that there will be a virtual event early next week, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that she will be part of it. It has been styled “a year of action on nutrition” and that is really what we want to see from this debate today. We want to see action and we want to hear about a definitive timeline for when decisions on nutrition will be announced here in the UK.

Obviously, we had hoped that the pledge would have been made already and that the Nutrition for Growth summit in Tokyo would have taken place. Although it is obviously understandable why that event is not going ahead and has been postponed, the needs of those who are reliant on UK support cannot simply be postponed.

The need for UK commitment is clear. Malnutrition is a factor in 45% of all deaths of under-fives worldwide and the head of the UN World Food Programme expects another 130 million people to face starvation, and that a further 6 million children are likely to suffer wasting. Stunting, as the hon. Gentleman has already said, causes lifelong health complications and it is set to rise dramatically after years of decline. Perhaps most disturbingly, an additional 433 children are expected to die of malnutrition every single day.

Further to the appalling human cost of malnutrition is the financial cost: a staggering $3.5 trillion to the global economy. The World Bank estimates that, for some countries, up to 11% of GDP is lost each year to otherwise avoidable healthcare costs and reduced workforce productivity.

However, we know how to alleviate this. The UK’s interventions have reached over 50 million women of child-bearing age, adolescent girls and children under five. This, among other successes, has supported a steady reduction in the number of children who were suffering from stunting from roughly 170 million to 144 million. As has been referenced, we need to highlight those successes and the positive impact that has already been made by our previous commitment.

Moreover, nutrition enables and increases the effectiveness of the UK’s action in other areas, such as health, education, economic development and helping those in conflict zones. A malnourished mother-to-be is much more likely to suffer complications. A hungry child is one fifth less likely to be able to read by the time they are eight. An adult living with stunting will have greater barriers to reaching their economic potential. Those growing up hungry are far more likely to find themselves vulnerable to the offers of dangerous groups.

Nutrition is a keystone of effective aid. It is also exceptional value for money, which I know is a matter that you take a great interest in, Mr Davies. As the Independent Commission for Aid Impact noted, while offering a green-amber rating, the UK’s nutrition programmes are one of the most cost-effective development actions, with significant economic returns. Indeed, research suggests that every £1 invested in nutrition spending will yield, on average, a £16 return.

I am proud of the UK’s record on nutrition. Its leadership brought us the first ever Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013, where Governments, NGOs and the private sector united around a common set of objectives to end malnutrition and pledged £17 billion to the cause. From the very positive interactions that we have had this year, I want the UK to maintain leadership in this field, as I am sure the Minister does too. To that end, I ask her for the following: to recommit to reaching 50 million women, adolescent girls and children with high impact nutrition interventions over the next four years; to ensure that at least £680 million of the FCDO spend in other areas is adapted to include nutrition outcomes; and to commit to spending at least £120 million per year on nutrition-specific interventions.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow East pointed out, that is less than we spent in 2017 and 2018 to account for the effects of covid-19 on the UK economy, but it is still ambitious enough to make meaningful progress. Without such commitments, we will potentially waste the progress that our aid has made in recent years, and right at the time when those who need that support need it the most.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South 9:54 am, 8th December 2020

I thank the Members who have brought forward this debate. This year, the Nobel peace prize committee awarded its prize to the World Food Programme, because it wanted to turn the eyes of the world to the millions of people who suffer from, or face the threat of, hunger. It said that hunger was used in many cases as a weapon of war and conflict, and that giving the award was a call to the international community to provide adequately funding to ensure that people would not starve. It said that the World Food Programme would have been a worthy recipient in any year, but in this year the virus has strengthened the reasons to address this issue, including the need for multilateralism in a time of global crisis.

The head of the World Food Programme has warned that next year there will be famines of biblical proportions. The Lancet has reported that the pandemic poses grave risks to the nutritional status and survival of children in low and middle-income countries, due to the decline in household incomes and interruptions to health and nutrition and social protection services. That is without dwelling on the worsening impact of climate change on the most vulnerable.

It is clear to see that, for the first time in many years, development progress is actually going backwards. This is the unfortunate context in which the Government have dropped their legal commitment—and, of course, a manifesto pledge made less than a year old—to protect the UK’s aid spending.

There is no doubt that the UK has been an enormously generous aid donor over the years, which is something to be very proud of, and I was struck by what David Linden said. I am an Irish MP from a contested region. People talk a lot about the Union, and it is fair to say that things like sovereignty, militarism and flags are never going to move me politically, but I have been deeply proud of the UK’s record on aid spending for many years. For all the talk of global Britain and walking on to the world stage, it is important not to strip back things like this generosity, like far-sightedness, like multilateralism, which have been meaningful to so many people.

We are now in an economic contraction that is worse than any in living memory—that is not in doubt. However, investment in aid, and particularly in nutrition, is not a short-sighted way to spend money, because we know that it helps to guard against longer term problems. Adequately nourished children will learn better in school, and tackling poverty helps to drain the reservoirs of ill-feeling in which extremism can take hold. We know this will make for a safer and more secure world for all of us.

I had the privilege of working for the NGO Concern Worldwide for a decade, until 2015, and then chairing the all-party group on international development during my time in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I had the opportunity to see projects from those NGOs in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean—to see the impact of UK aid all around the world.

We know that fractional cuts in the past have had major impacts on programmes. Save the Children has estimated, based on previous Department for International Development statistics, that the approximately 30% cut in aid spending will mean many reduced programmes. People have spoken about the importance of nutrition, particularly in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life; about the impact it has on education; and about the impact it has on gender equality, because we know that most farmers around the world are women, and most will be feeding their family first. We know about the impact of nutrition on the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV medication, and we know that it is absolutely the founding stone for all other areas of poverty reduction.

The Government have repeated the promise that this is a temporary cut and that they intend to return to the 0.7% commitment when the financial situation permits. I hope the Minister can commit to writing that into legislation in the same way the initial 0.7% proposal was courageously put into law, to assure people that if this really is just a particular need in the time of covid, a sunset clause can be put in place to revert whenever finances allow. Even in the context of the cuts, the Government can commit to improving governance and oversight of spending.

It is important to remember why DFID was created in 1997: the need to separate general overseas policies from aid spending in order to ensure that the aid was used in the interests of the most vulnerable and not, as I believe was the case then, to leverage trade and arms deals. It is important that the Government set out their priorities for aid more comprehensively, and in consultation with civil society here and in the countries we will be seeking to help. We have seen the top line of that, and although everything listed by the Government is good, there is concern that it does not focus on the needs of the most vulnerable, and that it has not been worked through in such consultation.

Christian Matheson was correct to point out the poor timing of the abolition of DFID, when civil servants and those who administer aid were operating in very challenging circumstances. They did not need to be dealing with a bureaucratic shake-up. As I said in the Chamber at the time, it was also the period when, in the context of the Black Lives Matter campaign, we were examining the UK’s legacy on the world stage. As I say, aid was the most positive manifestation of that.

The year that we have just had has shown us how connected the planet is, as well as the value of solidarity and the power of Governments when they choose to invest for good. It is always morally right to support the most vulnerable in the world—those in extreme poverty—and particularly so when their circumstances have been worsened by the pandemic. I do not think it is too late for the Government to do the right thing. Members have made constructive suggestions about how to continue to stand by the world’s poorest, and particularly the world’s poorest children.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 10:00 am, 8th December 2020

I want to begin as others have done by thanking my hon. Friend David Linden and David Mundell for bringing forward this important debate. Like others, I want to recognise that, despite the strong feelings on the issue, no one wants to diminish in any way, or not give recognition to, the work that the UK Government have done on tackling global malnutrition up to this point. It is because of the commitment that the UK Government have shown that there is now such profound concern about the threats during the current crisis to the good record that has been set.

There are growing concerns about the Government’s commitment to the overseas aid budget and the fight against world hunger. Many of us voiced concerns about a diminution of that commitment when the Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign Office. The Minister will recall the concerns expressed then. We were concerned that there would be a reduced focus on international development priorities. We feared that diminution, and indeed many even speculated at that time about whether the 0.7% of national income invested in aid was itself in danger. We were told that was nonsense. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the UK Government’s 0.7% aid budget commitment as recently as July. Yet it has been abandoned. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, condemned it as

“breaking a promise to the poorest people and the poorest countries in the world”,

and said it was a promise

“that didn’t have to be broken.”

We were told that there was to be no loss of focus and that the UK Government’s commitment to the poorest in the world was not in question, and that it was scaremongering and misleading to suggest otherwise. But now we fear that there will be a wavering of the commitment. We face a cliff edge on funding commitments, including the commitment to tackling malnutrition, at the very time when covid-19 has exacerbated an already desperate situation. We know that combating covid-19 has been costly to the UK. It has been costly to our health and the economy. As attention is focused on controlling the virus, there is a danger that the gains made globally

“in reducing hunger and malnutrition will be lost.”

Those are not my words, but those of Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on covid-19, in the context of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report.

One in nine people in the world are hungry—or 820 million people worldwide. That reveals the scale of the challenge if those of us in richer countries really want to ensure that the world is fed. Save the Children tells us that a quarter of children in the world today suffer permanent damage to their bodies and minds because they do not get the nutrition they need. Some 45% of child deaths in the world are linked to malnutrition. By 2030, 129 million children will suffer stunting as a result of hunger, and in the face of that there are concerns about reduced programmes to feed the hungry. As we speak there is a food crisis in southern Africa following the worst drought in 35 years, and the number of people at risk of food shortage is expected to rise to 45 million in the coming months. In the face of that, there are also concerns about reducing programmes to feed the hungry.

That means that international co-operation—all richer countries doing their bit, stepping up to the plate and recognising their role in the global village—becomes ever more pressing. We in richer countries have a moral duty—I do not think this is controversial—to come together and do all we can to invest in nutrition, which is vital for the development of a strong immune system and the prevention of protracted health crises.

In that context, the 0.7% commitment could not be more important. Due to the unprecedented economic emergency, we were told that the 0.7% commitment had to be temporarily suspended, but this economic emergency that we face is alongside the hunger emergency in developing countries, where millions face starvation.

What we need are: forecasts for the total drop in aid spending for nutrition from the start of 2021; an impact assessment on the effect that this decision will have on nutrition programs; a plan to mitigate the effects on the world’s malnourished; and an assurance, provided to the developing world and to concerned people in this House and across the UK, that this drop in financing will not be extended. It is alarming, quite frankly, that aid spending is being reallocated away from poverty-alleviation towards projects that cannot be considered aid projects, such as diplomacy and building yachts. I think most people in the UK would agree that these priorities need to be reassessed.

Malnutrition is a violent and corrosive social injustice that is morally inexcusable and politically and economically unsustainable. As human beings, we cannot ignore, or indeed seek to downgrade, the starvation and malnutrition of other people when we are able to help. We cannot turn our backs or reduce our focus simply because these people live far away. In the longer term, we need integrated, international guidelines on the human right to healthy, nutritious diets, and sustainable food systems, as a critical way forward.

Those of us who are lucky enough—and it is luck—to live in a richer country were filled with hope and optimism with the news of a vaccine, which has started to be rolled out this very day. However, vaccines are harder to deliver, and less likely to be effective, for malnourished people. In the developing world, diseases resulting from a lack of calcium, such as rickets, can have lasting harm, especially for children, whose bodies are still developing. The effects are far reaching, as those children are more likely to grow up with their intellectual and economic potential being limited.

Women and girls are most affected by famine, as their traditional roles in developing countries make it so. It is harder for them to survive because they have to care for their families and have to evade sexual violence, if they can, in areas of armed conflict. In some cultures, women eat last and least, and are subject to domestic violence as family access to food comes under greater strain.

The World Bank estimates that malnutrition costs some countries in Africa and Asia up to 11% of GDP each year; that shows us the limiting and damaging effects of malnutrition in economic terms, as well as in human terms.

The truth is that the UK Government’s aid budget has been cut by £6.9 billion this year alone. All of the good work that we have talked about—and were happy to talk about—done by the UK in poorer countries sadly sits under the shadow of that £6.9 billion cut, at a time when covid-19 rips through developing countries that are simply not equipped to deal with the consequences of that health threat.

We need the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to use every diplomatic and financial tool in its armoury to ensure that the postponed Nutrition for Growth summit, in Japan in 2021, is successful and attracts support for financial and policy commitments to end malnutrition. We do not need the international community to give us warm words; we need the UK on the global stage, leading the effort on the front foot.

The health pandemic must not and cannot be used as a reason for cutting back international aid. In fact, the consequence of the pandemic is that in developing countries an additional 433 children are expected to die every single day, according to The Lancet. It is a cruel irony to argue that the pandemic means that the UK must abandon its millennium development goals commitments.

Malnutrition is a threat multiplier in developing countries, since those who are malnourished are likely to have lower immune systems, and, with a global health pandemic, the significance of a virus that preys on compromised immune systems could not be more profound. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I hope to see her embracing the need for the UK Government to do their bit on the international stage, tackling global malnutrition and leading the effort. It is the right thing to do.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Labour, Stockport 10:10 am, 8th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank David Linden for securing this important debate, which follows hard on the heels of the Government’s recent announcement of the cut to UK aid, and could not have come soon enough.

I pay tribute to Concern Worldwide for its long-standing commitment to eradicating malnutrition, as well as the all-party parliamentary group on nutrition for growth, chaired by the hon. Member for Glasgow East, which has continued to put pressure on the Government to prioritise the issue.

As a member of the International Development Committee, I was appalled that the Government saw fit to abolish DFID in the middle of a global pandemic that has put some of the poorest and most vulnerable people at further risk. DFID was highly regarded as a world leader in its field and an excellent example of global Britain. However, the decision to scrap the Department and slash our aid budget has damaged the UK’s standing among our international peers. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will be interested to learn the amount of expenditure on the rebranding exercise that went on between the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID earlier this year.

With more, not less, funding required to meet the increasing demands placed on many countries as a result of the covid crisis, there must now be a clear commitment from this Government to set out a timeline for a multi-year financial pledge to tackle global malnutrition. That means pledging a minimum of £120 million each year to support high impact nutrition-specific programmes over the next four years, which will directly benefit 50 million women, adolescent girls and children. I hope the Minister will make urgent policy commitments to increase the FCDO’s commitment to nutrition programmes.

My constituents are rightly proud of the achievements of UK aid, which has lifted millions out of illiteracy and poverty, and provided so much support to some of the poorest communities around the globe. They have been directly invested in that process. Indeed, data made available by ONE, a campaigning global movement to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases, revealed that taxpayers’ money from my Stockport constituents helped more than 11,000 children receive a decent education, 40,000 people have access to clean water and better sanitation, and more than 37,000 people be vaccinated against meningitis and pneumonia.

In 2020, it is shocking that we still have children in this world suffering from malnourishment and starvation. It is deeply troubling that the figure, far from going down, is instead forecast to increase from 47 million people to 53 million, according to the medical journal The Lancet. Furthermore, it is concerning that the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit, which was scheduled to take place this year, has now been delayed to the end of 2021. Several Members have made the point about that summit.

The Government’s recent spending review and cuts to the aid budget add to the complications and challenges around a meaningful financial commitment from the FCDO to tackle global malnutrition. In light of the Chancellor’s recent announcement to reduce spending from 0.7% to 0.5% GNI, I hope the Minister can assure the House that cuts will not impact nutrition programmes. The reality of not providing that funding is stark. Malnutrition is a leading factor in 45% of cases of death of children under the age of five globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

Furthermore, Save the Children estimates that malnourished children score an average 7% lower in maths and are 19% less likely to read at the age of eight, hindering their chances of reaching their full potential in later life. Nutrition is a cornerstone of learning and development, and must be protected. I ask the Minister whether this Government plan to break their manifesto commitment to stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education, less than a year on from the general election and at a time when child malnutrition is rising sharply as a result of the covid crisis.

Mr Davies, we had excellent news this morning that the first covid vaccine has been administered in the UK. I am sure that the vaccine will help us overcome the pandemic, but the reality is that it is scientific fact that vaccination is less effective on malnourished people. In the sixth richest country in the world, we have a moral obligation and responsibility to intervene to alleviate that terrible suffering. A reduction in our financial support is unacceptable and would have long-term ramifications for those who find our funding a vital lifeline. We have a duty to act, and we must do so now before it is too late for the millions of people who desperately rely on us.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:15 am, 8th December 2020

It is a pleasure to be called to speak on this issue, which I have a great interest in. I thank David Linden for introducing the debate. He and I—like many others, I suspect—always feel persuaded to turn up to speak on issues at Westminster Hall that we feel are important, and it is one of those issues. I thank him for the chance to do so.

I have long been an advocate for our responsibility to fulfil our moral obligation and—I believe—our compassionate determination towards those less fortunate than ourselves through the 0.7% aid threshold. I am open about that and want to put that on record. As Christmas approaches, we are probably all thinking about the special food treats we are going to enjoy, some of them probably to our detriment—that is just by the way. Have we paused to think of those who perhaps will not have those opportunities to even have a small meal of some sort, while we enjoy the luxuries of what we have in this world? It is sometimes good to reflect on that and to realise our responsibility for compassion. We should be reaching out to those who are less well-off, indeed to those for whom a meal is not just a meal but their very chance of survival. As we have watched the repercussions of the coronavirus take hold, I have seen an increase in the use of food banks in my area. Food poverty is a reality for some families in this so-called western world, and in the western country in which we live.

Before the debate I had talks with some APPG groups, and I suspect that the hon. Member for Glasgow East probably listed their names, which was why they came to me. They discussed malnutrition, and we have malnutrition in this country in some areas. I would have been unaware of the figures they gave me for my constituency, to be truthful. It is about the food people are eating, the food poverty in which they live, and how we address those issues.

The first ever food bank in Northern Ireland, from the Trussell Trust, was initiated by church groups in my constituency, who came together with other groups. Over the years, that food bank has become an integral part of life for a great many people. People come to me regularly for pointers towards a food bank, and I can honestly say that without those initial injections of food at that time those people would have been under tremendous pressure. I thank God for all the food bank volunteers who have dropped food round at people’s doors and worked tirelessly to help the community. They must be saluted. I salute Richard and Natalie Porter and my local team at the Trussell Trust food bank established at the Thriving Life Church, along with all others making a difference to people in our community. For the record and for Hansard it is also important to thank all the churches and charities for all that they do. Those teams have set their goals to reduce malnutrition. Many of the churches in my area are involved in projects in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Kenya. They do incredible work there, and we could not do without their work.

Will the Minister indicate in her response what could be done to partner and work with the churches and charities that have their feet on the ground and that may perhaps be able to allocate and distribute the food to the people who need it most? I also believe that we have a moral and personal obligation to reach out and help others. It is what we are. It is how we look at things, and it is what we wish to do. I congratulate the Government on their historic leadership on nutrition as outlined in the 2013 Nutrition for Growth summit and the recent review of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact into DFID’s, and now the FCDO’s, nutrition work. It is a known fact that covid-19 has caused malnutrition rates around the world to skyrocket. The focus has all been on covid-19 and some of the other things that we would focus on have not happened, so that is rather disconcerting. Up to 10,000 more children are predicted to die each month due to undernutrition in 2020 than were predicted prior to covid-19. Again, that underlines how important the debate is and underlines as well why we look longingly to the Minister and our Government for responsibility to help us address those issues.

The number of children suffering from wasting—being dangerously underweight—is likely to increase from 47 million to 53 million as a result of covid-19. Some of the adverts we have seen on TV, in particular for Yemen, where we see some of those malnourished children, are really very hard to watch. As yet unpublished data shows that stunted physical and cognitive growth as a result of malnutrition affects some 149 million children under the age of 5 and that the figure of 21.9% per cent before the pandemic is set to rise dramatically unless urgent action is taken. Now is the time to put the action that Government have promised in place. Let us be clear: the United Kingdom is committed and we know that. It is the third biggest donor to nutrition programmes in the world after the United States and Canada, when we look at average donor financing to nutrition between 2013 and 2017. Yet again, I take the opportunity to urge Government to continue displaying leadership in nutrition. They are doing it, we need to continue to do it and we need to encourage others who are not doing it to do it equally.

I read the APPG’s report on nutrition and it makes a number of calls. I support it in those calls, in that the FCDO should recommit to reach 50 million women, adolescent girls and children with high-impact nutrition interventions over the next four years; to implement the policy marker for the nutrition aspect of its work, which would encourage teams within the FCDO, beyond the nutrition team, to consider the impact they can have on nutrition; to utilise the tactical leadership of the nutrition team within the FCDO to ensure all teams within the Department understand how nutrition relates to their brief; and to develop a needs and evidence-based nutrition-sensitive investment case. So: recommit, implement, utilise and develop.

I know that the Minister will be aware that the Governments of Canada and Bangladesh are hosting the event, as others have said, called Nutrition for Growth: Year of Action. The purpose of the event is to launch 2021 as the year of action for nutrition. Would it not be great if we were able to turn things around in 2021 and have a programme where money could be committed and make things happen? All Governments and others around the world should step up in the fight against malnutrition. Given the UK’s historic leadership, which we greatly appreciate, is the Minister planning to attend the event or play a part in it if at all possible? I take the opportunity to urge her to use the event to make a generous governmental pledge to nutrition.

We can make a difference and I believe we must ensure that every pound of foreign aid finds its place in a place of need and is not lost in greed. This is a big responsibility, but I believe that the Government and the Department are up to the task. I look forward to seeing how best we can save lives, bring hope and encouragement for those who need it and fulfil a global vision of no child left behind.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:23 am, 8th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and a great pleasure to warmly congratulate my hon. Friend David Linden for bringing forward this debate on a crucial issue at a crucial time. It is also a pleasure to follow so many constructive, sensible, warm-hearted and powerful contributions from across the House. There is a great deal of unity on this issue.

Malnutrition is a devastating condition in its own right, but it is also an aggravating factor in disease risk and a threat multiplier occurring with other conditions. By way of context, according to The Lancet, an additional 433 children each day are going to die as a result of the interaction between covid and malnutrition. This is a global pandemic that is affecting everybody, but it is affecting the poorest hardest. Public health has come to the fore like never before and global interconnectedness has never been clearer, so for the UK to be walking away from its commitment at this time is, to our mind, a matter of great regret. It is stark how, in the “2020 Global Nutrition Report in the context of Covid-19”, David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation special envoy on covid-19 has talked sharply of the real risk that

“as nations strive to control the virus, the gains they have made in reducing hunger and malnutrition will be lost.”

This is a timely debate and I am glad there is so much cross-party unity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East alluded to, the UK has a good story to tell on this. The UK has not been idle. Our concern is on the future direction of the UK’s policy and the people who are in charge of setting and influencing it.

The SNP conference at the weekend committed the SNP, in an independent state, to the 0.7% GNI commitment on overseas aid. That will be the cornerstone of our development policy; we believe it is a mark of global decency. Even with the powers that we have under the devolved settlement, the Scottish Government have pledged £2 million to UNICEF efforts in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda.

DFID, as was, is based in East Kilbride. Scotland has a keen interest and support for international development and related issues. That is why we so much regret the decision by the UK Government to walk away from the 0.7% commitment. We appreciate there are budgetary pressures—there always are—but to blame the pandemic, which is affecting everybody worldwide and the poorest hardest, as a reason to walk away from that commitment is, to our mind, a matter of great regret. We hope that we will see a change of course. At least let us prioritise malnutrition within the existing spend. The UK remains, of course, a considerable overseas development player. We celebrate that but we are concerned about where it is going in future.

I will not rehearse points that have already been made, but will perhaps distil some of the very constructive suggestions we have heard. We believe that the UK must commit to a multi-annual financial pledge to malnutrition. The UK’s existing commitments expire in a matter of weeks. We hope and expect they will be continued, but we would like to see that multi-annual financial pledge. We would like to see commitment of a minimum of £120 million a year to malnutrition projects, and we would like to see malnutrition accelerated within existing spend in other areas.

We would also like the UK to back enthusiastically the postponed Tokyo 2021 Nutrition for Growth summit. We believe that global action is necessary and the UK can play a part within that. We would also like to see the UK implement calls made in The BMJ by 180 experts for integrated international guidelines on the human right to healthy, nutritious diets. Guidelines can help inform development policy, and the more coherent they are globally, the stronger that effort will be.

We are concerned about the future direction of travel of the UK Government, but it is not too late to change course. I look forward to the Minister’s comments. If we are prioritising spend to help the poorest and malnourished in our global society, she can rest assured of the SNP’s support.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 10:27 am, 8th December 2020

I begin by thanking David Linden and his co-sponsors for securing such an important debate on such a crucial topic. I also commend the work of the all-party parliamentary group on these issues.

We have heard powerful and passionate speeches: from my hon. Friends Christian Matheson and Navendu Mishra; and from the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), who spoke powerfully of her experiences; the SNP spokesperson, Alyn Smith; and from Jim Shannon, who always makes a powerful contribution on such issues. It is good to see him back. I also take this opportunity to commend the work of my shadow ministerial colleague, Lord Collins, who has done much to highlight these issues and has campaigned for global action.

Despite the huge advances we have seen in agriculture, food science and distribution, it should be a profound shame to the global community, including this country, that so many continue to go hungry and malnourished globally and in this country. We have heard today of the wider consequences for education, women and girls, and wider health.

As a Co-operative Member of Parliament, this is cause close to my heart. I am proud to support the Co-operative party’s Food Justice campaign. Since the covid-19 crisis hit, it has been estimated that 8 million people in the UK regularly have trouble putting food on the table and half a million people are using food banks. I know all too well the reality for those facing food poverty in my community, having volunteered with and supported a number of local food banks and delivery schemes for the most vulnerable.

My concern and that of the official Opposition for those going hungry does not end at our borders. I have seen with my own eyes the stark face of hunger and near-starvation globally with the World Food Programme and others. As we have heard, that picture is even more stark today, despite decades of progress in tackling hunger and malnutrition. As the Co-operative party Food Justice campaign states, the big picture is not that there is too little food; the problem is that people simply have far too little money. Such is the inequality in our economic system that profound structural change is fully required to address that. As we have heard, malnutrition is a leading cause of preventable death around the world, and millions are affected by food insecurity. Despite the fact that we live in a world of plenty, one in nine still go to bed every night hungry or undernourished. That is one of the reasons why the United Nations made food security one of the key sustainable goals—the Minister is wearing the badge today. As we celebrate UN Human Rights Day this Thursday, we must remember the key human right to food and adequate nutrition, as defined by the United Nations.

The United Nations reports that, after decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger has been increasing slowly since 2015, even before the current crisis and the coming climate change emergency. It is estimated that, staggeringly, nearly 690 million people are hungry—8.9% of the world’s population, up by 10 million people in one year and nearly 60 million in five years. The world is not on track to achieve zero hunger by 2030, and if recent trends continue the number of people affected by hunger and malnutrition will surpass 840 million by 2030.

We have heard about many of the causes of that increase: man-made conflicts, climate change and economic downturns. In recent weeks, I have had conversations with humanitarian agencies operating in South Sudan and Ethiopia—two countries that exemplify those challenges; millions in South Sudan are on the brink of famine. I was having those conversations on the very day that the Government decided to slash the 0.7% commitment—what a stark contrast! The covid-19 pandemic could double that number, putting an additional 130 million people at risk of suffering acute hunger by the end of 2020. Of course, malnutrition is linked to economic inequality more widely. Rates of being underweight are 10 times higher in the poorest countries in the world than in the richest.

We have heard many examples illustrating the global situation, and I will touch on a few of them. It comes as no surprise that, following six years of disastrous civil war, Yemen faces the most acute malnutrition crisis in the world. The statistics are absolutely shocking: 12% of the population are in a critical emergency and 13 million people—many of them children—are in food insecurity. In South Sudan, 44% of the population are at the most critical phase, and more than 5 million people are affected. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, countries across the Sahel and north-east Nigeria are also affected. In Zimbabwe, 45% of the population—more than 4 million people—are at risk. In Haiti, the numbers facing food insecurity are nearing 4 million—40% of the population.

Too many turn away and forget. I see it as a particular tragedy that 36% of the population of Afghanistan—more than 11 million people—face food insecurity. We see food insecurity in more than one in 10 of the population of Burundi, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Guatemala, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Uganda and Zambia. Of course, there is a conflict ongoing in Tigray in Ethiopia, and the situation across east Africa and the horn of Africa is exacerbated by the locust pandemic, flooding and the impact of conflict on crucial harvests.

To put it simply, this is exactly the time when the world’s poorest need more investment in food security and nutrition, not dangerous and life-threatening cuts. We need more, not less, work on the fundamentals of nutrition and food insecurity. As the “Global Nutrition Report” outlines, we need to build equitable, resilient and sustainable food systems. We need to renew and expand our nutrition commitments at key moments, such as the crucial Nutrition for Growth summit in Japan next year, leading the way for other countries.

We heard that, next week, Canada and Bangladesh are holding a virtual summit to launch Nutrition for Growth’s year of action. Will the Minister or one of her colleagues be attending, and will the UK Government make a pledge? Will there be a continuation of nutrition finance at current levels at least through to 2022, to ensure that we do not face a cliff edge at the end of 2021? In what other ways are the Government working with donors around the world to ensure that new commitments are made at that crucial summit in Japan next year?

As has been said many times, the UK can rightly be proud of its record, under multiple Governments of different colours over many decades, on combating malnutrition and preventable deaths and preventing hunger, but promises to tackle malnutrition and hunger in the future are meaningless given how easily manifesto commitments are tossed aside at the whim of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Will the Minister confirm whether, as well as the plan to scrap the 0.7% Act, there is a plan to scrap the International Development Act 2002, which ensures that our funding is targeted at those who most need it and are at risk of malnutrition and hunger?

I have some specific questions for the Minister. DFID funded a multi-organisation programme in south-central Somalia to prevent the worst effects of disasters and food insecurity in a country where 28% of children under five are stunted. Will that programme continue to be funded, or will it be cut? The Pakistan food fortification programme is doing critical work to enhance nutrition among women—in particular, pregnant women. Will that continue after 2021, or will that nutritional support for the poorest and most vulnerable women be scrapped?

The World Food Programme appealed for £4.9 billion in 2020 to respond to the covid-19 pandemic, yet only half of that has been secured. The World Food Programme has had to implement prolonged ration cuts, including in refugee and internally displaced people’s camps across east Africa, including in South Sudan and Syria. The World Food Programme is clear that its partners do not have the funding required to prevent widespread hunger and famine. What is the UK Government response to that World Food Programme appeal at such a critical time? Will the Minister tell us how much funding for global food programmes has been cut last year and this year, and how much the Government plan to cut next year?

As I said, I have witnessed the impact of hunger and malnutrition at first hand. I have stood talking to villagers in Malawi as they queue for hours, waiting for a few basic bags of grain, while I am able to return to my comfortable hotel in the evening and eat well. I have seen impoverished street children in Kabul in Afghanistan. I have met women from Zimbabwe forced to sell themselves for sex so that they can feed their children. I have spoken to young people who have had their education disrupted or ended completely by having to return to till the fields for meagre returns, simply to help their family subsist. I have met families who have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS, through want of not only medicine but basic nutrition. I have met those whose lives have been torn apart by conflict originating in battles over scarce resources such as food and water, which are likely to be exacerbated as the climate emergency gathers place.

I put it to the Minister that as global Britain, we have a choice, we have a moral duty, and we have an imperative to act in our common interest to lay the foundations for mutually beneficial growth, education and health, and to remove the conditions that drive conflict and migration, with people fleeing the poverty, hunger and malnutrition that we have heard described so passionately in today’s debate. This is not the time to undermine our commitments on nutrition and hunger, at the very time when all that progress risks reversal.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:37 am, 8th December 2020

Let me start by saying that I am really grateful to David Linden for having secured this morning’s debate, and to all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I thank everyone for their recommendations and the thoughts they have shared this morning regarding our future approach, and I am deeply grateful to all those who are working tirelessly on this vital issue. I am reminded of the APPG meeting that we held earlier in the year. I am also reminded by my right hon. Friend David Mundell of the many visits that I have made to Africa over the years with Project Umubano, where I have seen at first hand some of the work that is taking place—not just through Government projects, but through civil society organisations and other groups—to tackle a range of issues, including hunger and malnutrition.

Tackling malnutrition continues to be of importance for this Government. Between April 2015 and March 2020, the UK Government reached more than 55 million young children, adolescent girls and women in the poorest countries with nutrition support. I was pleased to see that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently commended us on our work, and noted that the UK had undoubtedly underestimated its reach and impact. Preventing and treating malnutrition remains fundamental to achieving the Government’s commitment to end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and children by 2030.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all child deaths and one in five maternal deaths. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, progress to reduce malnutrition was already far too slow, particularly across Africa and south Asia. There is concrete evidence that the indirect effects of covid-19 are increasing malnutrition risk and threatening to reverse the gains that have been made. My Department, the FCDO, is closely monitoring the effect on nutrition. Many countries are reporting significant disruptions to key nutrition services, particularly breastfeeding support, delivery of vitamin A and iron-folate supplements, and treatment for acute malnutrition. Those disruptions will undermine the nutrition of the most vulnerable women and children in the world, and increase the number of people who die.

At the end of 2019, 135 million people in 55 countries and territories already faced acute food insecurity. Experts have estimated that as a result of the pandemic, acute malnutrition has increased by 14%, resulting in an additional 125,000 child deaths. Good nutrition is central to health, educational outcomes and poverty alleviation. A two-year-old who has received the basic nutrients they need in their early years is 10 times more likely to overcome the most life-threatening childhood diseases. They are also set to remain in school four years longer than their undernourished counterparts and to go on to earn more and have healthier lives and families. Every £1 invested to prevent malnutrition brings returns of £16 in increased productivity, so it is imperative that steps are taken to stop the current deterioration and to help countries get on track to achieve the 2030 target to end malnutrition in all its forms.

The UK Government are addressing this global challenge in three major ways. First, we are prioritising and continuing foreign investment in essential nutrition services, with a focus on countries experiencing the greatest shocks, including the impacts of covid-19. This includes highly cost-effective interventions such as breast-feeding support and acute malnutrition treatment in countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Ethiopia. We are also supporting programmes to deal with the chronic drivers of malnutrition in countries such as Zambia and Malawi. I personally made sure that our support to the Power of Nutrition financing facility was prioritised, so that this essential initiative can continue to save lives and avert malnutrition in countries such as Tanzania and Liberia.

Secondly, in September, the Foreign Secretary appointed the UK’s first special envoy for famine prevention, Nick Dyer. This is a clear signal that this Government are not prepared to look away as conflict, climate shock and the coronavirus pandemic put millions at risk of large-scale food insecurity and malnutrition. Alongside this, we launched a £119 million package of support to avert famine and food insecurity, which included a new five-year £30 million partnership with UNICEF to transform how acute malnutrition is prevented and treated. This will enable at least 4.3 million children each year in Africa and Asia to access essential nutrition services.

Thirdly, turning to Nutrition for Growth and the Canada event, to which many Members have referred to today, we remain firmly committed to working with the Government of Japan as they prepare for the next Nutrition for Growth summit. 2021 will be an important year for galvanising action to address malnutrition and I look forward to joining the Government of Canada at their event on 14 December to launch the Year of Nutrition for Growth. I am grateful for their leadership and support on this important issue. However, it is very clear that the scale of the global nutrition challenge needs a wide and diverse coalition of support. It cannot and should not only fall to Japan, Canada and the UK to deal with this global challenge. An essential part of our role is making the case to broaden the support base. It is incumbent on our partner Governments, the private sector and the multilateral system also to step forward. Nutrition investment is fantastic value for money, as many Members have highlighted.

The House will be aware of the difficult decision that the Government announced recently to reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income. I am conscious Members have raised this point during the debate. I have to say this was a difficult, but temporary decision. It is our intention to return to the 0.7% target as soon as the fiscal situation allows. In 2021, we will remain one of the most generous G7 donors, spending more than £10 billion to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health. We will also do aid better across Government; even though the budget is smaller, we will deliver it with greater impact for every £1 that we spend. Some 93.5% of UK aid will come under FDCO leadership—

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment on these issues, which she has shown over many years. Obviously, what we have heard about the aid cut is deeply concerning. I have some doubts that the cut is temporary, particularly given the scrapping of the relevant legislation, but I asked the Minister a specific question about the International Development Act 2002. Will she rule out changes to that Act, because it is the focus in that Act that ensures that our aid is spent, by whatever Department, on the most crucial challenges, such as nutrition and hunger?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I know that the hon. Gentleman will seek to press me on this matter. I reiterate that we will remain one of the most generous G7 donors, even though we will spend 0.5 % of our GNI rather than the 0.7%, and as soon as the fiscal situation allows, we will revert to 0.7%. It is a temporary reduction.

I still have a bit of time left, so I want to respond to one or two more specific points raised by hon. Members. One was the link between covid-19 and nutrition. It is an important secondary impact for us all to be aware of. Malnourished people are likely to be more severely affected by covid-19, and the wider impacts of covid-19 are predicted to increase malnutrition, particularly across Africa and Asia. Over the past year, nutrition services have been prioritising many FCDO country programmes, including in Ethiopia, Somalia, Zambia and across the Sahel, to help to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic. We have also supported Governments in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement to adapt their own responses.

Some Members raised the issue of vaccines in this debate, and I think it is important to recognise that malnourished children have been shown to have a less effective response to some, but not all, vaccines. Clearly, averting malnutrition is a sensible strategy to underpin any vaccination programme.

Girls’ education was mentioned by several Members, including Navendu Mishra. The UK is a global leader when it comes to girls’ education. Helping poor countries to provide 12 years of good-quality education, particularly for girls, is a top priority for this Government. We know that for children to learn they need the right nutrients, and that malnutrition disproportionately affects women and girls, preventing many girls from attending school and hindering the potential of those who do. I recall on some of my visits to Africa actually teaching in schools and visiting schools and seeing the difference that a child having had something to eat could make to their ability to learn.

Jim Shannon touched on partnership working. Let me assure him that we work with a range of partners to deliver our nutrition programmes. In countries such as Nigeria, we work very closely with faith-based groups to ensure that we reach those in need.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

If those church groups and charity groups that do very specific physical work in some of the countries that I mentioned want to be partnered with Government officials to ensure that that happens, is it possible for the Minister to give me some contacts, or give us all contacts, whereby we could perhaps bring them together?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I undertake to respond to the hon. Gentleman directly on that very specific point.

During the debate, we have raised the situation in various countries around the world that are experiencing food shortages and challenges with nutrition. I want to pick up on a couple of specific places. One is the Sahel, where our support will provide nutrition screening to 526,250 children and mothers in that region. That will include emergency malnutrition response treatment for almost 26,000 children with severe acute malnutrition. Yemen is a country that was specifically mentioned by several Members. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary warned in September, Yemen has never looked more likely to slide into famine. Food prices in some areas have risen by 20% since the start of 2020. The UK has shown leadership and responded to the crisis. We have committed £200 million this financial year, including an extra £30.8 million in new funding for famine prevention in September. That takes our total commitment to more than £1 billion since the conflict began in 2015. This financial year, we are providing the World Food Programme with £58 million to provide vital food assistance, meeting the immediate food needs of more than 500,000 Yemenis each month.

Preventing and treating malnutrition will remain a core part of what we do, given its vital contribution to health and wellbeing as well as to education and to ending poverty. I will be happy to update the House again on our approach to malnutrition in 2021, prior to the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit. There remains no doubt that addressing malnutrition in the poorest countries of the world is the right thing to do. Even in these difficult times, we will endeavour to do what we can to reach those most at risk. The real power of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is that we can now tackle global challenges like this by combining our world-leading aid expertise with our diplomatic strength. In doing so, we will still be able to help millions of people escape the terrible impact of malnutrition.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:51 am, 8th December 2020

I thank everyone for the strong cross-party representation that there has been in the debate. No fewer than five political parties have contributed to a Westminster Hall debate. When our minds are sometimes on other issues, that is not insignificant.

I thank Stephen Doughty for referring to Lord Collins of Highbury. He has been a stellar champion in the other place and helpful to me and the hon. Gentlemen in the work that he does in the all-party parliamentary group.

All Members have put on record the need for the multi-year financial pledge. I very much welcome what the Minister said about her commitment to attending the Canada summit. I hope that the UK Government will take the opportunity to make an early pledge.

We heard excellent contributions, starting with that from Christian Matheson, who spoke about his regret at the reduction of the target from 0.7% to 0.5%. I hope that the UK Government will clarify when we will return to a target of 0.7%. David Mundell spoke about the financial costs of malnutrition at £3.5 trillion. I have often thought that in order to explain to Ministers why the issue is so important, we should sometimes cite the economic cost. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the financial cost is staggering. He said that for every £1 invested, we get £16 in return.

Claire Hanna is no longer in the Chamber, but she spoke about her experience of working in this field for 10 years and about working on the issue in Stormont. She was right to refer to the concerns of the World Food Programme about the prospect of a famine of biblical proportions. She also questioned how the UK Government’s recent move ties in with their commitment to a global Britain.

My hon. Friend Patricia Gibson was right to quote the former Prime Minister, David Cameron—not someone I would normally quote in the House of Commons. I was struck by the tweet that he put out on the day of the spending review when he said that we share this planet with some of the poorest people in the world and now is not the time to turn our backs on them.

Navendu Mishra spoke about his experience on the DFID Select Committee and his regret that it has been abolished. Because of a malfunction with my hankies—hon. Members will see that I am falling apart with a cold—I had to leave during the speech of Jim Shannon, and I apologise to him. He was right to speak about a moral obligation and reminded us that many people across the world will not enjoy a Christmas dinner.

I say to the House—this point will not be lost on those watching in Scotland—that these days there is little to unite Members from the Scottish Conservative party and the Scottish National party, but the fact that the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and I have managed to put our parties’ politics on domestic issues and the constitution aside to campaign on nutrition should send a strong message to the Government. The biggest thing that divides me and the right hon. Gentleman is his belief that the UK and Scotland are somehow better together. I will never agree with him on that, but we can all agree that when it comes to the issue of vaccines in tackling malnutrition, we are very much better together.

When we applied for this debate, I thought about how it was not a covid-related issue—“My goodness; how will this look in Westminster Hall?”—but on the day when vaccines are being rolled out across the United Kingdom, we are reminded of the importance of good nutrition, so the timing could not have been better. I say to the Minister that we should not look at this issue in silos as we go forward. Let us tackle it as a team and make sure that we understand how vaccines and nutrition go hand in hand. That is why it is so important that we get a multi-year funding pledge. If the Minister commits to that, she will have the support of the whole House and every party in here.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s role in tackling global malnutrition.

Sitting suspended.