UK International Aid
Over the past few days, when I’ve been chatting to local people about various issues, Britain’s spending on international development has come up.
Many people support what our country does for the poorest in the world, but others object to the increase in spending at a time when other budgets are under pressure. There are also concerns that money may be wasted.
To put the sums in context, the international aid target we now meet is 0.7 per cent of the UK’s Gross National Income. I believe that relatively wealthy western countries can afford to give less than 1 per cent of their income to help the poorest.
The Department for International Development’s budget this year is over £13 billion. This is nothing like the sums we spend on pensions (£159 billion), healthcare (£146 billion), welfare (£112 billion), education (£86 billion), defence (£47 billion) or transport (£29 billion).
It’s a mistake to think that every problem could be solved, or budget gap plugged, if aid was cut. Still, £13 billion isn’t a small sum. It’s far in excess of what we spend on the police, for example. So we do need to ensure that aid is spent properly, and the Government has put in far tougher controls since it came to power in 2010.
But don’t let’s lose sight of the power of aid to do great things. I saw this for myself when I went to Lebanon last month, on a short visit which was not funded by the taxpayer.
Our aid money is being used to help train the Lebanese army, helping to build stability in the region and keep ISIL out of the country.
Millions of refugees are fleeing in terror from Syria, creating a humanitarian crisis. In Lebanon, a country half the size of Wales and with a population of just 4 million, there are now nearly 2 million refugees.
Britain has spent nearly £2.5 billion in humanitarian assistance. I met refugees in Lebanon and saw innovative programmes to give them shelter and educate their children.
The aim of eventually enabling refugees to return to Syria, rather than embarking on a dangerous passage to Europe, makes sense for us as well as for them.
Our aid spending is providing vital humanitarian relief, but it is also helping to strengthen security and build Britain’s ‘soft power’.
So my answer to critics of our aid spending is: yes, we must ensure it is spent wisely. But UK aid is doing great good, and we should be proud of it.