While the UK has a strong tradition of philanthropy and a history of public support for international aid, aid remains a controversial topic among some sections of the public and media. This controversy has recently been intensified in the context of economic austerity and public sector funding cuts. As a consequence we have recently experienced a ‘backlash’ against aid, and at RESULTS have been concerned to see a number of incorrect assertions about aid, what we call ‘aid myths’, emerging in the debate.
We’ve therefore put together a set of arguments, which are outlined below, for why international aid is important along with responses to some of the most frequent challenges laid at the door of aid. We would love to hear your feedback on how useful these arguments are to grassroots activists as you seek to increase public and political knowledge about and support for effective development aid. Please do comment, or get in touch with us in the office.
1. It is our moral duty to help those who need it
The UK is one of the richest countries in the world. With 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in poor countries – barely enough food, with nothing left over for educating their children, or paying for healthcare – those who have the ability to help others should. Choosing to do so, as the UK has done, is morally right and shows true leadership, and we should be proud of this.
Even following the economic crisis, the UK is in an extremely privileged position globally. The crisis, which the UK must share some responsibility for causing, has led to an estimated 90 million more people falling into poverty in the developing world, even though these countries did not contribute significantly to the crisis. It is simply morally wrong that those who did not contribute to the crisis should be paying such a high price from its effects.
2. Development is not expensive
Many of the interventions that could make a massive difference to the world’s poorest people are not expensive. For example, it would cost just $1 billion to provide fortified ready-to-use food for all the world’s 20 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. This would have a massive impact in reducing child deaths, and would also have positive knock-on effects on the long term health of the children leading to a healthier adult population and a more promising future for developing countries. Hundreds of other similar examples are available, for example we educate 50 children in the developing world for the same price as educating one child in the UK.
The UK aid budget is actually very small, and much smaller than many people think. The international target set by the UN for aid from developed countries is just 0.7% of GDP. In 2009, the most recent figures available, the UK gave 0.52%, but have pledged to reach the 0.7% figure by 2013. Even the relatively small amounts of aid achieve a remarkable results.
3. Development is in the UK’s interest too
We live in an ever more interconnected world, where what happens in remote countries has an indirect, or sometimes even direct impact on the UK. Many poor countries are characterised by conflicts and crime that do not stay within borders – they are drivers of migration and frequently destabilise whole regions. A recent report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development on Trade, Aid and Security points out that ‘although conflict may now be more strongly associated with poor countries than in previous decades, its impacts affect us all, wherever we live.’
Similar arguments can be made on other issues, for example disease. Poor countries bear a higher burden of disease than rich countries, as they cannot deploy the effective health systems they need due to insufficient domestic resources, leaving high disease burdens which hurt their development – a downwards spiral that can be broken by smart aid spending. This also impacts on the rest of the world, as germs do not respect borders.
One argument that is often levelled against investment in development aid is that many people believe that aid does not reach those it is intended for because it is siphoned off by corrupt government or NGO employees. Although corruption exists and is a real problem, this view is certainly exaggerated and often people’s perceptions have been shaped by things that happened in the Cold War – governance around the world, and aid transparency in particular, has come a long way since then.
Recently the Department for International Development (DFID) revealed that since 2005 0.0045% of DFID’s budget has been lost to ‘fraud, corruption or abuse’. While this is clearly unacceptable, it also represents a very low rate of fraud – £1 in every £22,000 given.
DFID is frequently proactive in the identification of and punishment of fraud. As just one example, earlier this year DFID reacted in a very robust manner to discovering fraud in their education aid to Kenya, freezing payments to the Ministry of Education and issuing visa bans for 20 officials suspected of misappropriating money. There is always room for improvement in any government expenditure, but the charge that aid is wasted because it is all misappropriated is just not accurate.