Britain’s Foreign Aid Budget Target Is Immoral

  1. Home
  2. World
By Harry Phibbs | 2:26 am, December 22, 2016

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver,” says the Bible.

As a vicar’s daughter, Prime Minister Theresa May will surely be aware of that passage from Corinthians.  Yet when it comes to Overseas Aid, her Government does not apply principle.

A fixed target of 0.7 per cent of our national income is spent on foreign aid each year. That comes to £12.2 billion a year – and rising, assuming the nation’s finances are healthy. Many taxpayers are very grudging about it but would face imprisonment if they refused to pay.

Yet some who object will often be “cheerful givers” when it comes charitable donations – including those for overseas causes. They may resent state spending on development as a matter of principle – lamenting the choice being removed from them with the nationalisation of compassion.

For others the concern is more pragmatic – that the money is not being well spent.

The recent scrutiny in the media will scarcely have helped to reassure the Aid sceptics.

To start with it is very foolish for anyone to make exceeding a minimum level of spending as a target for anything. Can you imagine a private individual regarding spending a minimum amount on something as an achievement in itself? The concept is quite absurd.

Unfortunately, it is enshrined in law so far as Aid spending is concerned – with a
piece of virtue signalling legislation passed last year. The law should be repealed and the target scrapped.

Next we should get a grip of what is spent. This means multilateral aid spending should be drastically cut back. The British Government should take direct responsibility for the funds – rather than letting the money go via the European Union or the United Nations.

“Budget support” should be abolished. This is where the money is handed over to the Governments in developing countries. Supposedly there can be conditions attached but in practice there is a hopeless lack of accountability. Amidst the waste and corruption this spending can actually cause harm. There is a difference between helping the poor in developing countries – and strengthening their tyrannical oppressors.

Far better would be for Aid spending to be bilateral and for specified projects where the results can be monitored. The more competition and accountability for delivering these projects, the better. Banning private firms from pitching to undertake programmes would be a mistake. Some left wing charities (with highly paid directors) have a vested interest in lobbying for this – so that they can get hold of the money.

But rigour is best achieved if the Department for International Development is open and clear about its objective and the contract to whoever offers the best value in achieving it.

So I do believe that Aid spending can be worthwhile. Of course there is a moral case for defeating disease and hunger. There is also our concern for our security interests in stable governments around the world – ones that uphold the rule of law and basic civilised standards. These countries will also make for prosperous trading
partners and be allies in defeating terrorism – rather than offering safe havens for our enemies.

The truth is, however, that the dominant forces for development have been free trade and free markets. The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1.90 per person per day (that preserves the purchasing power $1.25 a day in 2005 prices which was an earlier threshold).

Last year that was estimated at 702 million  people, or 9.6 per cent of the global population. Given recent trends it will have fallen substantially again this year – perhaps by another 50 to 100 million, equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom.

The progress has been rapid – in 1981 there were 44 per cent of us struggling by in extreme poverty, in 1990 it was still 37 per cent.

Some intelligent Aid programmes can help along the way. But it is not really the international bureaucrats and their schemes that we should thank for the growing and widening prosperity of our planet. It is the gift of capitalism.