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Andrew Mitchell freezes UK aid to India and plans to put extra money in failing states

Tim Montgomerie

MITCHELL ANDREW DFID OFFICE The FT (£) reports this morning that Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, is to freeze Britain's annual £280 million aid budget for India*. All of the budget will be focused on India's poorest regions and Mr Mitchell will divert half of UK spending into pro-poor private investment, rather than traditional development assistance.

Mr Mitchell had been under pressure to scrap all aid for India for reasons listed by the FT:

"India is growing at 8.5 per cent a year, gives aid to Africa, boasts more than 126,000 US dollar millionaires and is one of only six nations with satellite launch capability."

Key to this issue is whether British aid should be about helping people or countries. If your focus is simply on countries then helping India looks harder to justify. If, however, your concern is people then India does contain huge numbers of people in desperate need of help. Andrew Mitchell notes that "India has more poor people in it than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa."

Mr Mitchell does not expect aid to India to last for more than a few more years but has decided that the Indians within the 456 million living on less than $1.25 a day - and that Britain can reach - shouldn't be penalised because of their government and its questionable spending priorities.

The India decision is probably the most controversial call of Mr Mitchell's period as International Development Secretary so far. Previous decisions have included axe-ing all assistance to Russia and China; a 40% increase in aid to Afghanistan; establishing an independent watchdog to monitor the effectiveness of aid; cancellation of £100 million of ineffective programmes; and the establishment of a new Private Sector Investment Unit within DFID to encourage a more markets-friendly approach to aid.

Mr Mitchell's big goal is to spend one-third of UK aid on war-torn nations by 2015. Arguing that the most wretched people on earth live in these countries he also says that it is in the security interests of Britain for such nations not to slide from being failing into rogue states. Ten days ago he became the first ever British Cabinet minister to visit Somaliland. He commented:

"Our aid to Somalia is helping to make Britain safer, because conflict doesn’t just claim innocent lives in Somalia, it also leads to international problems like piracy, migration and terrorism. None of these will be solved without tackling their root causes: ongoing instability and extreme poverty.”

Screen shot 2011-02-14 at 07.05.27

Children, victims of flooding in Pakistan, with a bottle of detergent supplied by British taxpayers.

Britain's aid budget is questioned by many readers of this site but I've always supported the decision to protect our country's commitment to the poorest people in the world. Whatever challenges we are facing they are small in comparison with those dying from hunger or treatable disease. On the DFID website Andrew Mitchell summarises what UK taxpayers are achieving:
  • Every year, your taxes help 3 million people lift themselves out of grinding poverty around the world.
  • UKaid brought food to 13 million people on the brink of famine last year.
  • UKaid vaccinated 4 million children against measles and provided clean water to 2.5 million people last year alone.
  • In Pakistan we have provided shelter for almost half a million people in the wake of the monsoon floods.
  • UKaid has helped to get 6 million children into school in Afghanistan, up from 1 million in 2001.
  • Plus, 85% of the Afghan population now has access to a basic healthcare package, compared to 9% in 2002.
  • In Malawi, we are helping the government to build 1,500 new classrooms and recruit and train more than 20,000 primary school teachers.
  • UKaid will double the number of maternal, newborn and children's lives saved by 2015. This will save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth and a quarter of a million newborn babies.
  • UKaid will also help halve the number of deaths caused by malaria in at least ten African countries by 2015.

We can be incredibly proud of all that.

* The total UK aid budget is £7.7 billion.


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