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It has now been officially confirmed that the UK fulfilled its commitment of 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development assistance in 2013. In doing so, the UK became the first major economy in the world to achieve this.

This milestone is important for several reasons. The first is that it is the fulfilment of a pledge, first made in the 1970s and then repeated at the Gleneagles meeting in 2005. In politics, and particularly international affairs, pledges are too often forgotten or broken. The importance for the United Kingdom of keeping this pledge cannot be underestimated. It is clear that the reputation of the UK has been considerably enhanced by this action and that it matters.

It is also vital because this is money exclusively for reducing poverty that no other type of assistance could replace. As such, it makes a difference to the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the poorest countries. While those involved in international development can sometimes exaggerate the effect of their work, this is not generally the case for the work funded by the UK taxpayer. The Department for International Development has committed money to work, particularly in health and education, where very large numbers of people have seen direct benefits.

The UK is the leading donor to the global vaccines initiative GAVI which has brought immunisation against diseases such as measles, rubella, pneumonia and diarrhoea. In 1960, c20 million children died before their 5th birthday. Today that figure is c7m out of a much higher population – still a tragically large number but vaccination has played a major role in reducing it.

UK taxpayers are also spending c£500m per annum on the fight against malaria, of which there are more than 200m cases and 650,000 deaths annually (including British citizens travelling on business or leisure or to visit family members). This substantial funding has transformed the campaign against malaria and neglected tropical diseases which generally affect the poorest people on earth.

Development assistance is also in our national interest. The UK taxpayer supports economic growth in low income countries  to help the poorest their own incomes and work their way out of poverty – by supporting agricultural research for better crops,  by financing road construction to improve  market access or by advancing capital so that businesses can grow and take on more staff. That not only reduces the incentive for economic migration, it also means that these countries are increasingly becoming important markets for UK exports.

Further, it gives the UK credibility as it takes a strong lead in development internationally. The UK is a strong voice within leading institutions such as the UN or the World Bank where Justine Greening MP, the International Development Secretary, was recently pushing for a more pragmatic and effective approach to development. Recognising the need to work towards the end of aid dependency, she said at the recent World Bank Spring Meetings, that “supporting national and local leadership in emergencies” was key, and that “the primary aim must be to support countries to manage disasters by themselves, drawing on civil society and private sector support.”

She also spoke up strongly for ‘need-driven aid. “This will sound obvious, but for years there has been a tendency to do what we think is best for people, rather than listening to their needs.”

The UK is also the leading advocate for working together with the private sector in development. For too long, the sector has been ignored or even actively discouraged from involvement. That attitude thankfully is changing. But Justine Greening went further in a recent speech. She said that partnerships in development with the private sector were not merely ‘nice to have, there were essential.

There is always the risk of moving from one extreme to another. In embracing the essential role of the private sector in development partnerships, we must ensure that governments, parliaments and civil society are fully involved. That is easier said than done. It will take a significant change in culture which allows for true cooperation. As Justine Greening said when she launched her Roadmap for Partnership (DFIDs strategy to make cooperation on development work better) in April: : “Wed like to see civil society engaged with the private sector and organisations like DFID to find that common ground that we can work together on. There is a common agenda but its going to take people coming together if were going to unlock the opportunities.”

Reaching the 0.7% pledge for international development assistance is a critical milestone. What is done for the poorest with that hard-earned money from the UK payer and with the influence which it brings is much more important.

Jeremey Le Froy is the MP for Stafford. His Twitter handle is @JeremyLefroyMP. Florence de Vesvrotte is Member of the Conservative Party, co-ordinator of the Bright Blue Think Forum on International Affairs, and ActionAid UK Parliamentary Adviser. Her Twitter handle is @florencerdv.