LONDON: Britain is a significant contributor to helping developing countries. In 2015, for the third year running, the government met its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid, with the official budget rising to £12.2bn. However, it has become a politically divisive issue, with some angry at what they perceive to be the government’s commitment to helping people overseas while cutting vital services at home. With only six countries meeting the UN-defined 0.7 per cent goal, Tory backbencher Philip Davies told: “We are clearly the mugs of the world”. Amid renewed concerns about where the money is going and how it is being spent, previously bankable public support for foreign aid spending could now be waning – and the new Prime Minister has signalled she could scrap the 0.7 per cent pledge.
How does UK foreign aid compare to other countries?
Only five other countries – Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden – met or exceeded the 0.7 per cent target in 2015. At 1.4 per cent, Sweden had by far the largest proportional contribution, while the UK’s donation was the second largest in the world in terms of volume. Top spot goes to the US with £22.5bn, although this makes up only 0.17 per cent of its national income.
Where does foreign aid go?
According to the official data, more than 40 per cent of the budget went to multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, while the remainder, classed as “bilateral aid”, has gone directly to developing countries. Help provided through multilateral organisations is also classified as bilateral aid if it designated for specific programmes or for specific countries, the government states. The biggest regional beneficiary of bilateral aid is Africa, which received a total of £2.54bn last year. Ethiopia was given the single largest amount on the continent of £334m, while projects in war-torn states, such as Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Syria, were in each case worth in excess of £200m.
What is the money used for?
The Department for International Development’s priorities for 2015 included helping nine million children into primary school, immunising more than 55 million children against preventable diseases, saving the lives of at least 250,000 newborns and encouraging global action on climate change. Examples of aid include a grant of £724,500 awarded to Medical Aid for Palestinians, to deliver trauma support and plastic reconstructive surgery for many of those injured in the Gaza conflict, and the £230m provided to fight the spread of Ebola. Last year, the government said it had spent £900m on helping some of the four million refugees who have fled Syria since the war began. The vast majority of them are in refugee camps in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and the need for humanitarian aid is constant. The funds have been spent on basic supplies such as water, food, medicine and shelter. Amid renewed concerns about where the money is going and how it is being spent, previously bankable public support for foreign aid spending could now be waning – and the new Prime Minister has signalled she could scrap the 0.7 per cent pledge.
What spending is controversial?
All of the above is undeniably noble, but there has been longstanding criticism of aid being given to such countries as India and Pakistan, which have enough money to fund space programmes. There’s also a general argument, which has been gaining traction at a time of widespread voter unrest, that the money spent overseas is needed at home. All of this has come to a head as a result of a series of exposes in The Times newspaper, which revealed that the government was now spending as much as £1bn a year from the foreign aid budget on consultancies, with one consultant being paid £23,000 to write a “two-page policy brief”.
What does the government say?
Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, who has pledged “to review all foreign aid contracts”, broadly defends foreign aid spending, not least as a way to help offset migration from poorer countries. However, government support for foreign aid has withered since David Cameron left office in the summer and a spokesman for Theresa May told there will be a review of the law that requires spending of 0.7 per cent of GDP. This could be a signal that the Tories may scrap the pledge if they are re-elected in 2020.
What does the public think?
Until last year, and despite a lot of hostile media coverage, surveys consistently found most Britons support foreign aid spending. In fact, a poll conducted by the EU’s official statistics body last year found two-thirds of the country wanted to see more paid out across the continent and that the proportion of those who believe this should be a “priority” was rising. However, that beneficent mood appears to be changing.