Is overseas aid justified in a time of austerity?


International aid by definition is the transfer of funds to a country or countries in order to help the state or its population in some way; mostly from developed to developing countries. However, in a time of austerity, when the Conservative government is cutting £12bn from welfare spending and up to 40% from other departments’ budgets, is it still acceptable to spend £12.6bn on aid?


The arguments against international aid spending are multifaceted. For one, Britain’s overseas contributions have not reflected the frugal spending priorities of large European economies since the financial crash. Indeed, during the past few years, Britain has been one of a very few countries to meet the spending target set by the UN. In 2013, the UK held this accolade alongside Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the UAE and Luxembourg, while other countries such as France and Germany were reducing their overseas aid.


Moreover, the effectiveness of raw spending on overseas aid has been questioned for many years. For example, Easterly recently highlighted that although $568bn has been given in international aid to Africa over the four decades since 1970, there has been no real increase in GDP per capita. Indeed, scouring the Dfid website, there are frequent examples of futile projects that will merely squander our national expenditure. The Climate Change fund for Rwanda, for example, will aim to ‘contribute to sustainable wealth creation and poverty reduction in Rwanda, through sustainable management of natural resources, climate resilient and green economic growth’. In order to provide long-term economic growth in countries such as Rwanda, we would be better advised to stimulate business investment, rather than implementing wasteful green schemes.


By pumping billions of pounds into unstable nations through aid, we also ferment corruption. Foreign politicians who are supposed to use our aid to alleviate poverty and develop infrastructure often merely use the cash to cement their own political dominance or furnish their own personal wealth. Indeed, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, recently spent £12m on upgrades to his rural residence, while many of his population still live in hard-line poverty.


UK sending overseas aid has been vindicated on the basis that it provides compensation to the victims of our brutal colonial past. However, it could be suggested that such a position is condescending and somewhat counter-intuitive. Indeed, by attempting to heal the wounds of our past intrusions, we are intervening in foreign countries and, essentially, dictating the nature of their socio-political development.


Given the aforementioned evidence, I believe the UK should reduce its spending on the international aid and development budget. From Edinburgh to Exeter to Ealing, there is still relative poverty and public sector inefficiency. I do not intend to be parochial or narrow minded, I merely believe that, in a time of austerity, the United Kingdom should value the United Kingdom as first on its list of priorities.

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