We are at historic levels of global need: and you want to cut aid?

by 09th Jun 2016
A girl sheltering from monsoon rains in Dhading District, Nepal, in a community where many were still living in temporary shelters after the 2015 earthquakes A girl sheltering from monsoon rains in Dhading District, Nepal, in a community where many were still living in temporary shelters after the 2015 earthquakes

Aid spending by the UK is once again in the news. This time a Mail on Sunday campaign and petition has secured a Westminster Hall debate on 13 June. Up for discussion (but not review) will be the 0.7% target set into law at the end of the last parliament that obliges the UK to spend this percentage of its Gross National Income on overseas development assistance (ODA). But at a time when there are 91 million people in need of emergency assistance across 35 declared crises, the highest in a generation, climate change is daily demonstrating its disruptive and destructive force on the lives of the most vulnerable, and global health crises emerge on an annual basis, surely the only thing outrageous about spending 7p in every £10 on tackling global problems is that it is so little.

Here are five key points we should be making repeatedly every time this comes up for discussion:

1. 0.7% is the minimum rich countries should be spending, not the limit.

This is a number that rich countries committed to in the 1970s and it took over 40 years for the UK to be the first of the G8 to reach it. To turn around now and dump it just a few months after making the commitment a law would make a mockery of the idea that we can stick to any kind of long-term vision and effort. Any outrage should be reserved for the other countries who lack the moral and political leadership to deliver on their commitment to 0.7%. For more on the figure and its importance read the great blog by my colleague Miski.

2. 0.7% includes emergencies, and they are chronically underfunded.

Thanks to UK aid, CARE was able to respond to 14 different humanitarian emergencies since 2012, but each one of those got less than the amount requested by the emergency response managers. Money alone will not solve global crises, but it is needed both during a disaster and at key moments to prevent disasters from spiralling out of the control.

3. In corrupt countries we are not handing cash to the government.

Aid may always be needed in countries with weak governance and poor human rights records, but that does not mean that funding will go to the government in those countries. Instead the money goes to local organisations backed by large charities to help deliver services, build the economy and tackle poverty.

4. What we prioritise spending on is as important as the amount we spend.

Now that we have committed to 0.7%, let’s engage as a country in discussing which of the world’s hardest problems we will be helping to solve. Rather than wasting our time talking about how much of the aid budget should instead pay for UK flood defences (please consider the 99.3% of UK wealth available), the discussion in the media should be on the relative value of disaster reduction against disaster response, the merits of economic growth strategies in stabilisation efforts, or the return on investment of educating girls in fragile contexts.

5. Britain’s commitment to aid keeps Britain Great.

For me what makes Britain ‘great’ is not primarily about what happens inside the country, but it is about how the country continues to make its mark on the world at large. Our soft power, the ability to attract others to our point of view, is undoubtedly helped by our commitment to tackling poverty. It is not perfect, and it is not always consistent, but it is impressive. It is the actual demonstration of our capacity and willingness to lead on the global stage. Surely we should be proud of that?

And if we really want to make the debate count, here’s five more things to bring up, so that the quality of our assistance continues to match the quantity:

  1. The UK’s aid should not stop at financial support. Political will and courage are also required to fix the world’s greatest problems, such as the Syria conflict and the refugee crisis. 0.7% should not be a fig leaf for our refugee response.

  2. Scores of small local organisations do a lot of the heavy lifting in emergencies but they only receive 1.6% of relief money directly. How can they be better supported?

  3. What is the value added of large organisations, including INGOs like CARE, to delivering aid? It’s only right that we should be challenged on this. I think we generate and share knowledge, help coordinate smaller organisations, and raise and invest our own money in delivering social change through tackling inequality at the global level. However, I also think that for-profit companies that make no effort in these areas should face great scrutiny.

  4. DFID’s administration budget has shrunk by a third with £400m more in cuts to come. At the same time the new UK aid strategy focuses on fragile states where attention to detail is critical. Can we deliver the right quality aid without the staff to check that programming meets the right standards?

  5. We have a gender marker, and this is important. How about a human rights marker? We need to be totally confident that our aid strengthens human rights and does not undermine them, and pull the plug when programming goes wrong.
Paul-André Wilton

Paul-André was formerly Senior Policy Advisor (Conflict and Humanitarian) for CARE International UK. He led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around resilient markets, livelihoods and jobs within the overall humanitarian advocacy area. He also shared responsibility for delivering gender, peace and security humanitarian advocacy on emergencies.

Before CARE he worked for peacebuilding and democratisation organisations, and lived in West and East Africa. Previously he worked in the education sector teaching English for five years to students of all ages in Spain and the UK. He holds an Msc in Global Politics from Birkbeck, University of London.

One good thing I’ve read

I really enjoyed Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson for the fascinating discussion and examples of how fragility and institutions interact over time. I would also recommend The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith as an excellent and necessary sweep through the history since decolonisation and independence on the continent. In one of my first jobs we used to give it to each intern on their departure, as invariably it filled huge gaps in their knowledge, as it had done for me

Twitter: @PA_Wilton