Fighting for Foreign Aid

It is not enough to just make moral arguments in favour of overseas aid, the public also want to feel they are getting value for money

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When the Government confirmed it was cutting foreign aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income, I, alongside many fellow Church of England Bishops, condemned the decision. My conviction on this issue stems from the fact that we live in a country which, despite some serious domestic challenges, is incredibly privileged compared to the majority of the world, and it is morally right that we give at least 0.7% to help those who are less fortunate.

Put in perspective, the 0.2% cut amounts to £4bn a year. Considering that the UK has wasted £10bn on PPE and wrote off £5bn in unfulfilled or broken contracts this since 2019, removing £4bn from a fund that is meant to assist the least well off feels miserly.

However, the question that many of us need to ask is ‘Why do large swathes of the public believe this decision to be justified?’ It would be easy to blame sections of the media for incessantly bashing foreign aid and dismiss the genuine concerns that many ordinary people have. I do not dispute that particular journals have long sought to delegitimise the overseas aid budget, but they have only been able to do this because the Department for International Development has too often misallocated funding to the ire of the public.

Even an ardent defender of the budget such as myself winces at crude funding allocations that unfortunately are all too common. In the midst of the active suppression of the Hong Kong democracy movement and the incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the UK funded £81m worth of projects in China. Possibly one of the worst cases of misspent aid was the £166m given to India that helped to fund a programme that sterilised some of India’s poor.

It doesn’t help either that many international NGO’s who are recipients of UK foreign aid funding have delegitimised themselves in the public eye, particularly after it was revealed that Oxfam workers solicited prostitutes, some of whom may have been underage, in Haiti after it was struck by a devasting earthquake.

Rather than blaming the press for scapegoating foreign aid, perhaps we should focus our attention on those who allocated it. Morally grandstanding from a place of privilege will not save the budget. We need to restore public confidence that the money is being spent to genuinely help the world’s least fortunate.

Personally, I would like at least 1.0% of our Gross National Income to be spent on foreign aid but for this to happen we need to bring the public along with us. In future, when aid is misallocated, defenders of the budget need to be the first to criticise the decision and argue for more transparency. Otherwise, we completely abdicate the argument and allow the penny pinchers to monopolise the conversation.

Bishop of St Albans, Doctor of Philosophy, Lords Spiritual Member of the UK Parliament

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