Why it’s time for a proper discussion on foreign aid


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:

  1. £4m has been sent over the last 6 years to North Korea – a country developing nuclear weapons to “wipe the USA off the map.”
  2. Funding several shopping malls in Nigeria
  3. £3m to fund “grassroots” football in China (the world’s second largest economy)
  4. £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
  5. An anti-littering campaign in Jordan
  6. A mural in a rain shelter in Montserrat
  7. Facebook lessons for teenagers in Laos
  8. £4m for pop group “Yegna”, the Ethiopian version of the “Spice Girls”
  9. £274 million to a controversial climate change organisation, who admit they don’t even know what the money was spent on
  10. 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.

Shy Society.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain

Follow @mattlynchgb on Twitter.


  1. Many cancer treatment wards and centres in the UK struggle to provide the excellent service they often do. They have to resort to public donations, which they have to fight hard to get. It’s a precarious existence for them.

    My local council say they don’t even have the money to repair roads properly. Everywhere I go across the north-west the local roads are disintegrating. Hundreds of libraries in the UK, essential for social contact especially for the elderly, have closed.

    Streets in our town are increasingly overgrown with tall weeds, no longer removed by the council. They’re trying to raise cash by charging more for parking, which damages local high street businesses.

    I could go on. I have nothing further to add to the above, in the context of this article.

  2. Yawn. You really struggle to come up with bad examples. You seem to think that less than 0.7% of GDP is excessive. Perhaps you should look to the social security or pensions budget for your savings which dwarf humanitarian and development aid. You do realise that brexit britain will need prosperous countries with which to trade, or would you rather have a series of failing states exporting their young men into Europe and dover?

    • You really struggle to make a point without completely contradicting yourself, don’t you?

      You start off by suggesting that this particular funding stream is inconsequential, yet go on to suggest it could be the difference between trading with a “failing state” or not. Do feel free to make your mind up and try again.

      We’re not sure where you’ve been for the past 24 months, but the “exporting of young men into Europe” is already happening on an unprecedented scale – with or without our foreign aid budget contributions. Perhaps instead of “yawning” at people you should try and stay awake yourself? It might aid your efforts in trying to make a coherent point.

  3. In light of this article please sign this petition urgently:

    The petition “Stop UK foreign aid to all countries that mistreat minorities in appalling ways,”
    is designed to draw attention to the plight of Christians and other minorities in Muslims countries:
    Or see here:
    If possible, please sign the petition and share it with your relevant contacts via Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc. via the tweet above. The deadline is 25 April 2018. Once it reaches 100,000 signatures the proposal will then be considered for a debate in Parliament.


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