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£2.22 vaccinates ten of the world's poorest children against polio. Can you think of a better way of spending that money?

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron's stubborness sometimes serves bad causes - Ken Clarke's 'justice' policies - but it sometimes serves very good causes and his defence, yesterday, of Britain's aid policies was definitely in the latter category.

Opinion surveys find overwhelming public opposition to Britain increasing the aid budget at a time of austerity at home. Add in the £1 billion cost of operations in Libya and the much greater potential cost of EU bailouts and you are stretching the public's patience. Different and more specific questions find much greater support for overseas aid, however. ConservativeHome polling of party members find narrow pluralities agreeing with statements such as "I am proud that Conservatives are using the aid budget so that hungry children in the poorest nations are fed and sick children in Africa are healed." The more people know about specific projects and specific benefits the more support there is. What the public don't like is the idea that their hard earned money is disappearing into the unknown.

The Prime Minister attempted to get specific and personal yesterday when he defended the fact that Britain is now top of the league table of major nations when it comes to official assistance (it's just as important to measure private assistance and remittances):

"If you’re not convince[d] that it’s right to vaccinate children against diarrhoea, to try and stop the preventable diseases, to try and save mothers in childbirth; if that doesn’t do it for you, what about this argument?  That these countries that are broken like Somalia, like Afghanistan – if we don’t invest in them before they get broken we end up with the problems; we end up paying the price of the terrorism, of the crime, of the mass migration, of the environmental devastation.  You know, if we’d put a fraction of what we’re spending now in Afghanistan on military equipment into that country as aid and development when it had a chance perhaps of finding its own future, wouldn’t that have been a better decision."

The fact is small amount of money go much further in the world's poorest nations*:

"Every penny spent helping the world’s 925 million hungry people goes much farther than if it is spent here. With aid cuts, the British taxpayer could, for example, save £2.22 — the price of a tall chai latte in Starbucks — but DfID could no longer vaccinate ten children against polio. We could save £4 — the price of a bottle of Cape Peak Chardonnay at Tesco — but a Senegalese mother wouldn’t have an insecticide-treated mosquito net."

We could close down our aid budget tomorrow and it would eliminate barely 5% of the deficit but our influence in the world would be much, much weaker.

The debate needs to move on. It shouldn't be aid or no aid but what kind of aid works best. It's dumb aid versus smart aid. Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times addressed this topic a fortnight ago. It's true that a lot of aid was wasted in the past but that was when western and communist governments used aid, particularly in Africa, to buy the loyalty of different governments. Over time aid has become more targeted on those who are really deserving and we've learnt how to bypass corrupt officials.


Andrew Mitchell's International Development department isn't spending in the same way Labour spent. There is now a transparency guarantee so we can inspect how our aid is deployed. Money is going to poorer nations and there'll be no more money for Russia and China. More aid is going to help conflict-torn nations so we do everything we can to stop countries becoming tomorrow's Afghanistans and Somalias. More money is going to support enterprise in developing countries. Like every Whitehall department, DfID is cutting its own costs by a third.

> Andrew Mitchell is speaking to ConservativeHome's Foreign Policy Conference on 6th June and we'll report more on what he says after then.

* Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£), 1st March 2011.


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