In Defence of Aid

Ipsos MORI recently released a poll which showed that three quarters (76%) of those surveyed in Britain say they know 'not very much' or 'nothing at all' about the development aid given by the UK to poorer countries.

John Kerry: "There is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy and America, there is also no longer anything foreign about foreign news. We will be stronger for 'connecting those dots'."

The next few months are crucial for the long-term future of international development policy and foreign aid. The Millennium Development Goals, an agreement signed in 2000 by the United Nations, supported by 189 nations, were originally designed to be achieved by, and reviewed in, 2015. The planning for what comes next is already well underway. However, many involved in international development are getting worried about where we are going to end up.

Ipsos MORI recently released a poll, which showed that three quarters (76%) of those surveyed in Britain say they know 'not very much' or 'nothing at all' about the development aid given by the UK to poorer countries. It was a similar picture across the 24 countries included in the study, with (75%) of those surveyed admitting to knowing 'nothing at all' or 'not very much' about the development aid given by their country to poor countries. Worryingly for the development aid sector, half of those surveyed globally believe that the money their country spends on financial aid to developing countries is wasted.

For years Prime Minister David Cameron promised to ring fence international development funding. However, he now appears to be back-tracking on this promise by saying that the government is to consider spending money from the UK's £10bn aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects.

I'm not against the armed forces - I believe they are doing an excellent job in frankly very difficult conditions. I also support the RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT, so believe that they need to be adequately funded; I just don't think this funding should come at the expense of international aid.

We live in an interdependent world and we can't escape each other's problems. We'll all vulnerable to terror, the spread of disease and the effects of climate change. For all the blessings of the modern world it is still unequal, unsustainable and unstable. Our goal should be to support those people in the forgotten corners of the world who want to live lives marked by dignity and opportunity. It's more important than ever to lift the child in Sierra Leone from poverty, shelter the refugee in Syria and banish diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and polio in our time.

It is clear that, despite their feelings on government spending on international aid, many of my fellow Britons believe that the poorest people in the world deserve a way out of the poverty trap. Even in these tough economic times the generosity of the Great British public has been exceptional. We're about to celebrate 25 years of Comic Relief that, since its founding in 1988, has raised over £600 million through 13 Red Nose Days. That money has been helping to change lives across the world's poorest countries. Brits mean it when they say, "Never again."

Though the money raised through Comic Relief has, undoubtedly, changed millions of lives, it is not enough. Government policy is vitally important. As Richard Curtis showed in his new film for Comic Relief, Mary and Martha. "First, I just wanted to raise money. Then I realised, the inevitable journey towards governments to make changes is the one. It's something I know to be true and something that I care about."

Which brings us back to the Prime Minister appropriating the aid budget for defence. Rather than redirecting aid money to military missions, the Prime Minister should instead ensure that aid is directed to the places it will make the most difference - not just the poorest regions in the world, but also the projects which empower the recipients to take the lead in their own development. Ownership is vital for accountability, and accountability is vital for both donors and recipients.

The good news is that there has been a concerted move towards support for projects which encourage ownership of development - USAID and DfID amongst others have put their weight behind the idea of partnership with developing countries. Only last month, DfID launched a new tool, the Open Aid Information Platform, to improve public access to our aid data and open up the chain of aid delivery, from DfID right through to the end beneficiary.

However, this is just one small step. Governments, NGOs and companies in developing countries still need to be encouraged to be more transparent. The next step will be to go beyond the UK Aid Transparency Guarantee by launching a challenge to all of our funding partners and aid intermediaries to commit to publishing full information on their disbursements of DfID funds.

Communicating on development aid presents a treacherous challenge, combining legitimate concerns around waste and corruption with spectacular misconceptions of the scale of the funding involved, on a subject that most people in developed countries have little time to consider. However, when we consider that more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990 thanks to a combination of Government Aid, NGOs and other initiatives, it's clear that development aid is too important a topic to be side-tracked because of tricky communications (or, frankly any difficulties). Rather than diverting aid budgets to military missions the government needs to stand by prior commitments and support development aid, but support the right kind of projects and let us know about it.

Diplomatic aid today is much cheaper than troops tomorrow.


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