Overseas Aid

Jun 6, 2021 by

by John Redwood:

I am glad the UK spends money on ships and equipment that go to assist countries facing flood and tempest. I am in admiration of our medics and armed forces when they sometimes go to help treat and contain dangerous infectious diseases abroad. I am pleased the UK as one of the leading and richest countries of the world helps alleviate and tackle poverty in the developing nations.

The UK should set out what it can do and what it is good at, and should be generous where need arises and where we have the means to help. I want to see reform of our budgets and our activities in these areas so we achieve more with better value for taxpayers.

I went along with the Conservative leaderships’ support for hitting the 0.7% target of GDP, though I have misgivings about such targets. I do not think we should commit to spend a certain proportion of a fluctuating and usually growing number. We should decide on spending on a case by case basis and against our general budget background. We do not pledge to spend a fixed proportion of GDP on health or education or policing, but look at those budgets in the light of needs and costs.

Labour will doubtless oppose such a change. They averaged under 0.4% of GDP on overseas aid in their period in government 1997-2010, despite pretending to support the international commitment to spend around twice as much as they usually managed. Others will join them in opposition. I would suggest it would be best to lobby the EU and its members, who consistently spend well below our spend levels and well below the international target, and will still do so next year. What matters more to me is what each country achieves and how ready it is to go the help of those in immediate need, where the UK rightly excels.

Last year the UK again spent 0.7% or £15bn on overseas aid. £10bn of this was spent on projects and activities we chose along with the recipient country in so called bilateral aid. The balance of £5bn was spent by our giving the money to the EU and other multinational bodies to spend as they saw fit in so called multilateral aid. As we leave the EU it is a good time to bring our overseas aid spending back in house and decide on how we can best help those in need. We should also look at the full support we give, which goes wider than the items allowed under international conventions to be called Overseas Aid. Some of our Defence expenditure is aid, being used to help bring peace to strife torn countries and providing assets to tackle disasters.

I want us to identify the areas where we have most expertise and can do most to help. Maybe the UK should specialise in a few large areas like the provision of clean water to each home, the provision of primary education to all girls as well as boys in poor countries and the roll out of programmes to tackle infectious diseases.

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Read also: Aid is not the best way to help poorer countries by Esther McVey, Sunday Telegraph (£)

“That means we need to think and work differently, grasping with both hands the opportunity to deliver “trade not aid”. Now that we are no longer in the EU, we should be working to secure trade agreements with poorer countries, helping them to develop industry and trade their way out of poverty. This is true Conservatism, and a sure way to help countries raise living standards on a permanent and long-term basis. If more and more aid was the solution, large parts of Africa would have escaped all poverty decades ago. But instead, over-reliance on overseas aid – with some corrupt governments using the money to enrich themselves – has fostered a culture of welfare dependency on a grand scale, something Conservatives should know does nothing to eradicate poverty.”


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