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Aid Doesn't Work: Breaking the Cycle

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We've all heard the adage that if you say something often enough, it becomes true.

Well, recently some parts of the media seem to have adopted this approach to trashing foreign aid, saying aid doesn't work, and the public don't want it.

This is dangerous. It's dangerous because it's wrong, and because it could cost people their lives.

It's wrong because aid can and is making a huge difference. Millions of lives saved by the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in the last decade, 4 million lives that will be saved in the next 5 years by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, 40 million more kids going to school than a decade ago.

It's wrong because the public, when they hear these facts and see personal stories of transformation, get on board. The huge sums raised by charities are increasingly driven by such positive stories of progress. Comic Relief raised more than ever in 2011, and the public's response to the East Africa famine was unprecedented.

The cynics in the media say that they public want foreign aid from the government cut - but they always forget to finish the sentence. They want it cut from what they think it is, anywhere from 15 to 25% of government spending, to five or 10%. Aid spending in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand is around 1% of government spending - a fraction of what people think it is, and a fraction of what people want it to be.

The danger in all of this is that these myths, left unchallenged, will have a real impact on the lives of the world's poor.

When the media misreport on aid - saying that it doesn't work and people don't want it, and the public start to believe it. Members of the public repeat what they read in the papers to MPs, who in turn start to think that the public wants less aid. The media report on MP concerns over aid based on their own reports, and put pressure on the government to spend less.

The government spends less - cutting funding to life-saving interventions like vaccines for some of the world's poorest children, reducing money set aside to respond to emergencies like last year's famine, and the world's poorest suffer.

As a movement of people who care about fighting extreme poverty, we cannot accept the demand of some media editors to balance our budget on the back's of the world's poor.

It's a demand that's based on untruth and misinformation, and we have to stand up and do something about it.

We need to take the proof that aid works out to our communities, and we need to show our politicians and media the full story when it comes to aid and development.

We need to argue that aid can work wonders - when it's spent well. We have to acknowledge that aid isn't always spent well, that corruption is an issue, and that we need to ask tough questions about value for money and impact - and that these are issues we should debate, not excuses to avoid giving aid.

We should be proud that our government has so far stood up the negative press, and kept their promises to the world's poor and us on foreign aid. But we can't expect them to withstand the barrage without more support from us.

As I write this, I'm on a train back from Plymouth in the south west of England, having just spoken with a group of students about exactly this. They got it, as have people and communities all over the country. At the Global Poverty Project, we've spoken face to face with more than 100,000 people in the last two years, and the lesson we've learnt is clear:

Take the facts and the stories out to people, suggest a course of action, and they can do the rest.

Join me in writing to your local MP to say thanks for the aid they're giving, and urge them to keep up the good work by helping to save three million more lives from malaria.

Around the Web

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