The origins of our foreign aid programme dates back to the 18th century, when the UK and other European powers provided large amounts of money to their colonies. This was development aid, typically to improve infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of increasing the economic output of the colonies.
Foreign aid is actually as old as civilisation itself and as far back as the ninth century A.D. there is a record of the King of Moravia having asked the Emperor Michael for the help, of a comprehensive technical-assistance mission.
With that in mind, foreign aid is considered a fundamental part of humanity hence the term ‘humanitarian aid’. It was Mahatma Ghandi who once said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” As Britain is a global power, you could argue our nation’s greatness is measured by how we treat our weakest neighbours and allies.
It is essential to outline the two main types of aid: humanitarian aid and development aid. Roughly 16 per cent of our foreign aid budget is allocated to humanitarian aid, with the rest spent on development aid.
Humanitarian aid has been used in situations such as the earthquakes which devastated Nepal in 2015, it has treated Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and it has helped fight the hunger crisis in East Africa this year. The UK has provided life-saving aid and helped the world’s poorest people. Britain can be proud of its record in this area. One in every £8 spent in foreign aid around the world is funded by the UK taxpayer.
The UK is obliged to spend 0.7 per cent of its GDP on foreign aid. This figure is mandated by the UN and has been since 1970. The UK is actually the only member of the G7 to meet this GDP target.
In 2015, the Conservative government, led by David Cameron, enshrined this into law as the International Development Act 2015 and this means the government now has a legal duty to meet this target, which in 2015 was £12.1bn.
The problem with having a target is that you are compelled to find projects to spend it on, rather than projects being funded on merit. This results in incredible waste and some ludicrous projects. £12.1bn equates to £185.78 for every citizen of the UK – that’s £185.78 of your money. If we break this down, that’s £29.72 towards humanitarian aid and £156.06 on development aid.
Our foreign aid budget is so large it will actually outstrip the total amount given to our local authorities in the current financial year (2017/18). This is whilst our councils are being forced to cut vital services and increase council tax by an average of 4 per cent, to offset the 26 per cent cut in funding from central government.
So bearing in mind 16 per cent goes on humanitarian aid, where does the remaining 84% of the foreign aid budget go? Well, here are some examples:
- £4m has been sent over the last 6 years to North Korea – a country developing nuclear weapons to “wipe the USA off the map.”
- Funding several shopping malls in Nigeria
- £3m to fund “grassroots” football in China (the world’s second largest economy)
- £300m given as cash payments to Pakistani citizens, who withdraw the money as cash through ATM cards. In fact, more than 9.3million people across 14 countries have received cash payments funded by the British government since 2010
- An anti-littering campaign in Jordan
- A mural in a rain shelter in Montserrat
- Facebook lessons for teenagers in Laos
- £4m for pop group “Yegna”, the Ethiopian version of the “Spice Girls”
- £274 million to a controversial climate change organisation, who admit they don’t even know what the money was spent on
- A stop smoking campaign for factory workers in China.
A widely reported example was the Caribbean island of Montserrat, which has seen almost £400m in British foreign aid and yet still does not have the permanent hospital, among other utilities, that the money was supposed to be used for.
In April, the Express told how a mentally ill Arab who killed a British student was in line to receive a “salary” from the Palestinian National Authority, which receives £25million a year from Britain. It is claimed Jamil Tamimi could receive as much as £800 a month, as a reward for being a “hero who resisted the occupation”. And in another example of how this funding often falls into the wrong hands, check out Kay Wilson’s experience of the Palestinian National Authority here.
Anyone who criticises our wasteful foreign aid budget is predictably labelled ‘right wing’. It is important to differentiate between humanitarian aid and development aid and it certainly doesn’t denote where you are on the political spectrum – or that you hate all brown people – if you question our spend on development aid and object to the ludicrous funding of some of these projects.
Britain has to balance its support for the rest of the world, with its needs at home. There are more than 4,000 people sleeping rough each night in the UK and last year, more than a million food packages were handed out by foodbanks in the UK. This is unacceptable even before you consider that British taxpayers are funding “grassroots football” in the economic powerhouse that is China.
Even the National Audit Office has condemned the spending of international aid, warning that there was “no evidence it is improving lives.” US politician Ron Paul summed up foreign aid perfectly when he stated: “Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.” It is high time our elected politicians quit the lazy arguments that silence people over this issue and admit that Britain can still pay its dues without wasting obscene amounts of money on the sacrosanct foreign aid budget.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain
Follow @mattlynchgb on Twitter.