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Foreign Aid, An Irrational Scapegoat

06/04/2014 13:07 BST | Updated 04/06/2014 10:59 BST

Last Friday, BBC One was taken over by Sport Relief, the biennial telethon/charity fundraiser that aims to raise millions for the most vulnerable people both in the UK and in the world's most impoverished nations. Collectively, the British public gave over £50 million to Sport Relief to help the suffering and the impoverished across the globe. From our giving, it is clear that the public in Britain see helping the needy all over the world as something that is incredibly important. And you know what? They're right. Over a billion of our fellow human beings live on a dollar (around 61 pence) a day. Just a dollar a day. That's not enough money to buy a coffee from Starbucks or a cheeseburger from McDonalds. It's certainly not enough money to live any kind of life on, not enough to feed yourself properly or look after your children. One person in seven alive today is suffering like this, in extreme poverty, yet UKIP and much of the Tory grassroots advocate a slashing of the UK's modest foreign aid budget.

It is really heart-warming to see regular headlines in the Express and the Daily Mail, amongst other rags, screaming about how Britain's foreign aid budget is too high at 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). How charming that these disgusting 'newspapers' decry Britain meeting its international obligations to spend a certain proportion of GNI helping the world's poorest people. Anyone with an ounce of empathy for the plight of those suffering extreme poverty would be praising the British government, and as much as it pains me to say it, Cameron and Osborne, for sticking to the 0.7% pledge, when it would have been popular to quietly forget it.

UKIP and our right wing press draw emotive comparisons between our foreign aid budget and cuts to services and budgets to be spent on home shores. They appeal to the witless nationalist tendencies amongst much of the British public, claiming that slashing spending on foreign aid could reduce cuts to services in the UK. Frankly, this is bollocks, and I'll address that in a second, but a temporary digression is necessary to justify the accusation of witless nationalism aimed at the British public. I use nationalism, as patriotism is insufficient to show the strength of feeling by the British public. Patriotism is mere pride on one's nation, which whilst irrational, is relatively harmless; nationalism however, is a much more malevolent force, with connotations of national superiority and the attitude that British people matter much more than foreigners. The idea that helping the neediest is less important than reducing cuts to libraries in the UK (as their minds see will happen), just because the neediest happen to be abroad, is a nationalist one. It is also misguided, dangerous and frightening, because in an age of ever-growing global co-operation, arguing for a nation's natural superiority is idiotic. Of course, aid also ensures that our fellow humans worldwide edge to an acceptable standard of living, and reduces disease, conflict and misery. Even the most blinded nationalist must see the human benefit of foreign aid.

Of course, it is also false that cutting foreign aid would allow for more spending by the government domestically. Our government, and the Labour Party are unfortunately focussed on cutting the budget deficit and national debt as their main economic priorities. Think about that for a second, and then think where the money 'saved' from cutting foreign aid would go. Would it be reallocated to the NHS or other services? Would it hell. The money would just go to reducing the deficit or paying down the debt, both things that should really be delayed until growth has really taken hold in the economy. Britain can afford to borrow more to avoid cuts to domestic services whilst still helping those in extreme poverty abroad. The government can borrow at very low interest rates, rates which are low both when compared to other nations and when compared historically. If rates are low, it is obvious investors trust in the UK to repay its debts and feel we can afford to borrow more.

Borrowing more is something that makes clear economic sense, as sensible economic theory tells us that we should increase government spending when the economy is struggling, and cut when the economy is doing well. Look at the nation that came out of the late 2000s economic crisis relatively unscathed, Canada. Canada underwent budget balancing and reform in the good times, when the nation could absorb cuts, and has increased spending since the crisis. If the UK borrowed money whilst interest rates are low, to allow us to kick-start a proper recovery for the whole nation, not just the South East, we could balance the budget during the growth period, meaning cuts and adjustments would be a lot less painful for the poorest in our own nations.

Now I have established the UK can really afford to spend to help the needy abroad and at home, and opposition to doing so is based on nationalist rather that rationalist ideas, I beg you, the reader, to really justify opposing foreign aid. Yes it must be reformed and adjusted, to ensure the money goes to the people and nations who need our money get it, and it is not misspent, but that is an issue with execution of the policy not the principle. Despite claims the public don't want to give to the needy abroad, Sport Relief raises tens of millions to do just so. Somehow, the claims must be wrong. The will of the people is clear, the economics are obvious and the opposition to aid is emotional idiocy. Foreign aid must be supported, for without it, human misery will proliferate.