We are the first G7 country to meet the jointly agreed commitment to spend 0.7% of our income on overseas aid. In doing so, we have established an expertise and leadership in the field. It has given us enhanced credibility at the UN and the ability to speak with real authority in the world. Along with our defence and diplomatic effort, it is a key part of the way we project our power and influence.
People think we are spending too much. I once tried asking constituents in Ringwood how much of our income it is. The answers ranged from 10% to 30%, so I was able to tell them we had cut it to less than one percent!
Think of it the other way around: we are keeping 99.3% of our income for ourselves. Do you know anyone who does that, indeed would you want to know them – would they have any friends?
The Daily Mail’s campaign against our overseas aid budget has run for over a year now. In recent months it has been joined by The Times. The stories about our aid being given to corrupt and profligate regimes, wasted on trivial projects like Ethiopian girl pop groups, or lavished on the salaries of consultants drives my correspondents into a state of apoplexy.
On detailed examination these stories turn out to be very different from what has been reported.
Of course, we do spend in the poorest and most unstable places in the world, and it is no co-incidence that these tend to be the most corrupt and misgoverned countries, but we do not ‘give’ money to them. We pay by results for projects in health, education and economic development, and because we do not have an army of civil servants, we pay contractors from professional and experienced organisations to run those projects. The Daily Mail calls them ‘consultants’.
Our international aid effort is undermined by waste and the perception of waste. I met the new Secretary of State last week to re-enforce the message that she needs to root out those things that might give rise to that perception. Before she got the job of running the International Development department, she was on record as wanting to abolish it and replace it with a trade department.
Well, she is quite right in her priority: Trade dwarfs aid. If we can only get poor countries better access to the world’s trading system then they will earn vastly more. That is why our international aid programme spends about £1 billion per year facilitating and improving trade.
At the last election UKIP proposed we cut the budget from the current £12 billion to £4 billion and concentrate just on humanitarian relief and the inoculation effort to prevent disease. These are important, but we would lose the much more important work in economic development that is so vital to our national interest. Millions are on the move in pursuit of better lives and livelihoods. Over the next decade the world needs 600 million new jobs if we are to avoid a growing army of under-employed, frustrated, desperate and angry young people. It is therefore vital that we invest in economic development and prosperity in their countries. In the end, it is all about jobs. This has to be our main effort, because if we do not, we know where all the consequent problems are going to end up being exported to.
In the modern world you cannot – like an ostrich with its head in the sand – isolate yourself from global reality.
Development aid is not charity. We spend it in our national interest so we can trade and prosper in a stable and safer world.