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Aid in a time of austerity. By Lauren French

by on June 20, 2012

In a time such as this with such economic turmoil at home, the first cuts often come from reducing how much oversees aid the government gives. The public are also less able and less willing to give regular donations to charities, understandably. But this isn’t right.

Development aid and emergency aid are not widely understood by the public and so they cannot comprehend why governments give money to certain states. I couldn’t help but notice the calls by many to halt all aid given by Britain because “we need it more” or they ask “what about us”. This is understandable, and yet selfish and ignorant too. We are in a lot better position than the majority of the world’s population as over one billion people live below the poverty line, so demanding that the UK government forgo foreign aid is quite strange when it can make more of a difference and do more good in the developing world than it can here.

The particular states that receive aid can often be controversial. India was a bone of contention because of its space programme and nuclear weapons- surely a country that can afford that can afford to look after its poor. I would argue that is isn’t as simple as that. If India was like the UK or another developed western society then yes it should not receive aid, but it isn’t. India is a developing country, with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world. It has a stubborn caste system, and a great deal of ethnic and religious tension. All of these issues complicate politics, which is after all essentially a system to decide who gets what why and how. Having said all of that however, I needn’t have jumped to India’s defence as it no longer receives aid from the UK.

China still gets aid as far as I can see. This may seem unnecessary with China having the second largest economy in the world, but aid has political purposes too, which can undermine its true intentions. And so as with Iran, Jordan, North Korea, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, aid is a diplomatic tool to prevent or encourage certain acceptable behaviours or as leverage. For example, in Pakistan, the UK provides aid if Pakistan promises not to start a war with India, or curb its nuclear activities, and so forth. It pleases governments to get aid for their suffering people because it takes the heat off them.

The UK in the last decade or so has given around half a per cent of GDP in foreign aid. Pittance and yet a lot more than the US, China, Japan, France, and Germany, even though all of these have greater GDPs. We are generous and we should celebrate our charitable nature, not try to change it for the sake of a few million dollars that could just be squandered elsewhere, like oh I don’t know, a £1 billion opening ceremony to the Olympic Games in London in a few weeks, or maybe an unjustifiably extravagant Diamond Jubilee celebration, including giving poor communities £50 to spend on street parties and nothing else. Yes because I’m sure if said poor people had the chance they would spend £50 throwing a street party for someone who doesn’t care about them rather than feed themselves for a week.

I know some of the aid we give doesn’t go to where it is most needed but much of it does especially in emergencies, such as the on-going famine in east Africa, and the rapid response we had to Haiti in 2010. I’d still rather endorse the giving of aid despite the potential for controversy, than not give any aid at all, and I’m sure many would agree. Besides there are possibilities for reform; just because China receives aid now doesn’t mean this will still be the case in a year’s time.

Even in times such as these where our own future seems unsure, the UK should keep up its foreign aid, but not just use it as a diplomatic tool but also because people need it and it is the right thing to do. Perhaps if the public knew more about what aid actually provides, they wouldn’t be so dismissive but what are the chances of that happening.


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