It’s not surprising there’s growing hostility in the UK towards the concept and implementation of overseas aid.
At £155 billion, this country’s largest budget deficit since the war is 70 percent of GDP and the coalition is making £83 billion in cuts to UK public spending over the next four years to address the issue. Justified as they may be, the austerity measures will prove very painful to a lot of people during that period. In that context, it’s hard to understand why the UK’s commitment to international aid has been ring-fenced. Effectively, we’re increasing aid to spend on children in other countries while cutting child benefit at home.
Lack of transparency is one problem. It’s notoriously diificult to obtain an official breakdown of aid payments.
Some of it doesn’t even leave our shores. The Department for International Development (DfID) finances schemes promoting awareness of climate change and poverty, including, for example, the teaching of ‘global citizenship’ to pre-school children in Devon.
Curiously, we persist in providing aid to nascent superpowers like India and China. India is a nuclear power, boasting its own space industry. We’re effectively supporting their nuclear weapons capability at a time when we’re cutting our own defence budget. China also has an ambitious space exploration programme and its government’s budget surplus last year was $82 billion. It also spent billions hosting the Olympics a couple of years ago. Surely these countries should be addressing their own social inequalities and poverty?
UK citizens who insist on an outlet for their altruism can give voluntarily through independent charities. But government aid packages smack of colonialist hubris. The spectre of paternalism continues to loom. And donations are often used to ‘buy’ UN votes or market favouritism. Money is diverted into tied projects with UK firms.
Too many African countries are dependent on aid. It stifles their economies and leads to corruption and indolence. James Shikwati, the Kenyan economist, urges us to “stop addressing African problems and start addressing African opportunities.” He implies that aid does nothing but harm to African people. When it’s not used by politicians to manipulate people and influence votes, it’s used as a mechanism for dumping subsidised foreign products onto markets, making it impossible for local farmers to compete.
If we can really afford to be generous in these straitened times, at least we ought to ensure we spend our money judiciously. It’s easier to be generous than just.