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On 26th March the 0.7% of GDP that Britain gives in overseas aid was made law, binding on future governments. The UKIP manifesto proposes that this is repealed and the aid budget is slashed by two-thirds. A lot of Christians campaigned to ‘make poverty history’ and supported the UN’s 0.7% target so this issue merits some careful analysis.
The case against this level of aid rests on five arguments. The first is that we cannot afford this level of charity. The 0.7% target means a budget of £11.3 billion this year, which will grow or shrink as our GDP increases or contracts. This constitutes just 1.4% of Government spending or £137 per citizen. It is suggested that whilst people need food banks to feed their families and the NHS needs increased funding; we should not be giving so much away.
It is also implied that much of the funds given in aid are wasted. The Department for International Development (Dfid) is one of the most transparent departments and carefully monitors how aid is spent. Critics claim, thirdly, that aid doesn’t work and the desperately poor remain poor. Dfid responds that the number in extreme poverty has halved in the last 25 years. They cite evidence that as a result of aid 48 million children have been immunised from preventable diseases and 10 million children went to school last year because of our aid.
Aid creates dependency is a fourth argument for repealing the legislation. Dfid contends that aid is used to empower people and is not just given in handouts. Thus 54 million people were able to access financial services to start or sustain a micro business venture.
It is also suggested that we give aid to wealthy countries like China and India, that don’t need it. We don’t give any aid to China but India is a more controversial case. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has a £24billion defence budget and has spent £25 million sending a spaceship to the moon. Despite this 68% of the Indian population live on less than £1 per day. Dfid has cancelled aid to India from this year and shifted its support to technical assistance. Their priority countries are Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria where need is far greater.
Humanitarian altruism is not the only reason for giving aid. It is also used to signal diplomatic approval and sustain strategic relationships. That is why we give aid to Pakistan, despite scepticism about their commitment to stopping the Taliban and Islamic hardliners. Aid buys influence with Pakistan’s Government and also helps us to gain commercial access to recipient markets.
Whilst it is legitimate to ensure that aid is given to the right countries and spent as intended, the humanitarian, diplomatic and trade reasons for giving it remain strong and morally right from a Christian perspective. To cancel aid to the most needy would be to behave like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable.