“There’s still a long way to go. We’re borrowing £100 billion a year – and paying half that money a year in interest just to service our debts. We’ve got to make more cuts” George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The government is adamant that its intention to continue spending around £12 billion a year on foreign aid is justified. David Cameron says “to those who are sceptical, I would say it is not only a moral obligation that the better-off countries have to tackle poverty in our world … but it’s also in our interests that we build a more prosperous world”. John Howell, Tory MP for Henley reckons in a newsletter, “international development is in our national interest and is both the right thing and the smart thing to do … by investing in jobs, opportunities and peace we have moved one step closer to ending aid dependency and creating the world we strive for”.
All highly laudable but hard to reconcile with the experience to-date. Over the last fifty years, the west has “invested” well over a thousand billion dollars in Africa for example, but from various accounts the bulk of its nations are now in a worse financial state (measured in terms of GDP per capita). In fact the counter view is that far from fulfilling its objectives, “aid is more likely to subvert good government, enrich corrupt tyrants and subsidise warlords” (Civitas reporting on Jonathan Foreman’s book: Aiding and Abetting).
However, the real issue is: should the UK be borrowing £12 billion plus a year for such largesse when the country’s structural deficit is so high? Does an ever mounting national debt make us “better-off” ? As recently announced by George Osborne, further public savings in the order of £25 billion need to be achieved by 2017/2018 with the bulk of this coming from further cuts to government departments and welfare. Well here is a good starting point for making those savings. And at a time of increasing geopolitical tension with the consequent serious threat to British security, some of this money would be much better employed in bolstering the armed forces and security services.
“Those who support the increase of taxpayer-supported UK aid need to ask themselves how much of the well-being of the weakest and the most vulnerable people in the UK they are willing to sacrifice for that end.” Jonathan Foreman
The British people are amongst the most generous voluntary donors to charity in the world. Making compulsory donations from borrowed money to finance overseas projects of uncertain benefit to either the intended beneficiaries or UK interests is definitely not a vote winner.