As a member of the G7, and one of the wealthiest countries on earth with a GDP of over $2 trillion (2012), most people expect that even, if not especially, in these troubling economic times, the UK should make a significant contribution to development aid around the world. We do so of course, and the most recently published pledge made by the Chancellor is his last budget was that of 0.7% of our gross national income (GNI), an increase on the last, and working out to an expected contribution of £11.3bn, or roughly, £137 for every citizen in the UK. A new poll recently shows the majority (61%) of UK adults do agree with this planned increased in spending on overseas aid.
When the UK looks beyond our shores to spend this money, it is directed under the International Development Act 2002 to focus the funds on poverty reduction. The scope of projects is quite wide, health projects receive the most funds, £929m for projects such as fighting child malaria in Africa, where it is reported 1 child dies every 45seconds from this preventable disease. Other areas include: society, receiving £727m, education, £625m, economic projects receive £542m, and water, £142m, the UK wants to provide 15 million more people with safe drinking water by 2015. All noble goals indeed.
This still leaves the question though, of who gets, and who should get the money for these projects? The top recipients in 2011/12 according to the Department for International Development (DfID) were: Ethiopia (£324m), India (£284m), Bangladesh (£219m), Pakistan (£212m), Nigeria (£162m) and Afghanistan (£146). When looking at the countries where DfID aid is prioritised, almost every single country is in Africa, or the Indian subcontinent, the only exceptions being Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Some on that list would never raise an eyebrow, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, for example. But when we look at India, they are one of the component parts of the ‘BRIC’ economies and one of the fastest growing in the world; we do need to ask if they still need the money. Evidently now, the UK government no longer thinks so, and like with China and Russia before it, there is now a pledge to end direct financial aid to India by 2015, and liberating £284m for other targets. Even in the words of the Indians themselves, this aid amounts really to only ‘peanuts’ and is not needed, amounting only to less than 0.03% of India’s national income, and less than 2% of what its government spends on rural employment and food subsidy programmes anyway.
Another in the firing line is South Africa, who are also scheduled to have their aid axed in 2015 along with India. Although the amount they receive in comparison to India is small, only £19m, Pretoria has reacted furiously, and has claimed that diplomatic formalities were not observed in properly informing the country of the loss of the funds. The consequences of which could be both political and diplomatic far in excess of the £19m London saved. Foreign Secretary William Hague countered this saying, “Not having to give aid to South Africa is the success story. Britain has helped to improve matters in South Africa. But we don’t continue to give aid to countries that are raising their incomes, that have growing economies”.
As with all government expenditure, there is always competing interests for every penny, and those who criticise wasted funds on administration costs. The UKAid budget is no exception. Despite doing a lot of good around the world, information released indicates £19m was spent on “external private sector consultants”, and a previous logo carried the cost of £100,000 to develop.
Regardless of the attitudes of some and the criticisms around some areas of funding being misspent, UKAid is one of the few budgets ring-fenced against cuts, and does have a real humanitarian side and significant public support behind it.