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Philip Davies MP: Overseas aid is a failed policy - we should put our own people first

Davies Philip NEWPhilip Davies is the Member of Parliament for Shipley and Parliamentary Spokesman for Blue Collar Conservatism. For more information about Blue Collar Conservatism you can visit the website. Follow Philip on Twitter.

How much money we should be spending on our overseas aid budget has become a highly contentious issue.  On one side of the argument we have the Prime Minister who promised before the election that we would spend 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas aid as many countries had pledged to do – and now, at a time of such little public trust in politicians, understandable wants to keep the promise he made. 

On the other side of the argument lies virtually every other country in the world and, if the opinion polls are to be believed, the vast majority of the British public who believe that in such tough financial times we need to reduce spending on overseas aid as we have had to do in virtually every other Government department.  I am very firmly in the latter camp.  Whatever the merits of the overseas aid – and I will come on to that later – the fact is that we have not got any money to hand out so liberally around the world.  You would not advise people to borrow money to give to charity and yet that is precisely what we are doing – borrowing money from some countries to hand straight across to other countries.

In the UK we already spend the highest proportion of GNI on the overseas development aid among G7 countries. Department for International Development (DFID) spent £7.7 billion in bilateral overseas aid in 2011/12, ‘supporting’ 62 countries.  That does not include our contribution on multilateral level to the International Monetary Fund, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or UN agencies. Whilst we are continuing to increase our spending, other countries are now reducing the proportion they spend on overseas aid – including those who had previously pledged to spend 0.7% of their GNI – as they recognise the tough financial times they face.

It is commendable that the Prime Minister wants to keep the promise he made on this issue. The problem is that it was a foolish promise to make given the financial situation of the country, and now that the nation’s finances are in a worse state than the Prime Minister envisaged when he made this promise, most members of the public expect him to adapt to those changing circumstances and act accordingly.

Making a pledge on the amount of money you will spend on anything is foolish.  That is a Socialist approach to issue – a blind belief that simply the spending of money is the solution to a problem.  Surely it is better to focus on outputs rather than inputs and I would much prefer we concentrated on ensuring that the money we spent on overseas aid (which should be reduced) is spent wisely.

There is a lack of genuine solid evidence to prove that the gigantic sums we have spent on overseas aid actually get people out of poverty anyway.  Over recent decades we have spent over £69 billion on aid to Africa and yet the problems are just as entrenched now as they ever were. At home the Government rightly wants to end welfare dependency, and yet with overseas aid it entrenches welfare dependency internationally with many countries simply awaiting their next handout, and that is without the many millions that are siphoned off by dictators in many of the countries who are the recipients of our aid.  There is much truth in the maxim that overseas aid is the taking of money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.  As we have seen with countries such as China and India it is trade which gets people out of poverty rather than aid which maintains people in poverty.

Until recently we were giving aid to China and we are still giving aid to India – even though they were reported as saying that they didn’t even want it.  Indeed India is still the second top receiver of the UK’s overseas aid after Ethiopia, and we gave them £300million last year.  This is despite the fact that India’s economy had been growing by almost 10 per cent year on year whilst we were in recession. At the same time India spends $37.4 billion on defence, which is an increase of 5.3 per cent for 2013/14. It also allocated around $1.3 billion for its space programme with plans for missions to Mars. We cannot afford to be the world’s backstop telling every country that they can spend their own money on anything they want and we will be there to look after the poorest in their country.  Countries like India should have been told many years ago that if they can afford to spend over $30bn a year on defence then they can afford to look after the poorest people in their country with their own money.

If overseas aid was successful the budget for it would be reducing not increasing.  We should have an action plan with each country which targets support which gradually weans the country off such dependency.  Handing over more and more money to countries each year is a sign of failure not success.  We have plenty of our own poor people to look after, plenty of other things to pay for and a huge national debt to repay.  They should all have a higher priority than increasing our budget for overseas aid.


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