Why is International Aid the “punching bag” of Austerity Britain?

As the debate on International Aid trundles on, and reports of its inefficiency fuel the fire, George Hopkin explains why foreign aid is a budget we cannot afford to cut.


In Britain, international outlooks are not very popular. The common theme seems to be that we British should fight for our independence from the EU, battle against the stifling lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights, and make sure our borders – and trading regulations – are working harder for hardworking British people. With this kind of attitude, it is only natural that international aid is going to take a punch or two.

So, there it is. International Aid acts as the punching bag of Austerity Britain. But, as the sceptics try to pull the drawbridge up between the UK and the rest of the world, I wonder if they really know what aid is or why our government gives it.

Let’s investigate. 0.7% of the UK’s national income goes towards aid. £12 billion is a huge amount of money but, in current government spending terms, an amount that is fractional. This money goes to charitable organisations such as UNICEF, and the governments of countries that suffer from deep poverty—having many who struggle as part of what most people will only ever see as a statistic: the 1.4 billion impoverished worldwide.

Our government works hard to make sure that each and every pound we give is sent to the right organisations, with 4 out of 43 groups cut due to ill-performance. Nations that no longer need aid do not receive it—the Russias, Chinas, and South Africas of this planet with developed national governments and rising economies. Efficiency is at the heart of this process.

Looking at root causes of poverty, the aid does not just provide a temporary relief. International funding helps with infrastructure; it teaches better farming techniques; it makes sure that clean water is more of a constant, and not just a luxury.

And this is not just an issue of compassion. This is about humane, economic support of the kind that we should be expected to give in an increasingly globalised world. It is about advanced nations holding out a hand to bring others up with them—modern Britain with the old colonies is a good example of a duty-bound leader supporting those with fairly young systems.

We are lucky, in Britain, to have had two consecutive prime ministers who understand this, sometimes, difficult reality. First, Gordon Brown wisely ring-fenced our international aid budget, then David Cameron delivered upon that same promise by leaving it unharmed.

Cameron earlier this year stated his government’s position, declaring: “To those who are sceptical, I would say it is not only a moral obligation that the better-off countries have to tackle poverty in our world when we still have over a billion people living on less than a dollar a day, but it’s also in our interests that we build a more prosperous world.

“If we don’t, the problems of conflict, the problems of mass migration, the problems of uncontrollable climate change are problems that will come and visit us at home.”

In these words, there is caution enough for those whose minds are drawn to inward problems and who forget that there are people elsewhere that are struggling harder than us, with our way out one of the only ways available.

If we do not give what little we can, then the consequences of our actions will come back to haunt us in politics, economics, and social justice. We need to move away from the view that charity starts at home and realise that the ladder of prosperity must not be pulled up behind us.