International aid helps the UK as well as those countries in need
Article in the London Evening Standard
Millions of people around the world have had their lives saved, or been lifted out of crippling poverty, by international aid. We should be proud of the aid the UK gives.
Yet some politicians and commentators persist in their criticism. They are adamant that aid is wasted and even claim that it doesn’t work at all. Their easy answer to every problem in our public services is to cut the aid budget.
A new report published today by The Project for Modern Democracy, an independent think-tank that I chair, demolishes their central argument. Fifty years of academic research shows that, overall, aid helps to increase economic growth and reduce poverty.
Even modest amounts of aid can add as much as 1.5 per cent to a recipient country’s annual growth, greater than the UK’s forecast growth for each of the next five years. Over time, this adds up: one study suggests that the average developing country would be 30 per cent poorer today had aid not been given over the past 50 years.
It is often claimed that aid is wasted on corrupt governments. But it can help reduce corruption — often more a symptom than a cause of poverty.
David Cameron put in place a robust new watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, to ensure that the money is well spent. Our aid is one of the most transparent forms of government spending — every project can be tracked online.
Aid can never be the main driver of development, as it represents a fraction of the wealth generated by private investment and trade. Wealthy countries could do more to accelerate the growth of developing countries, including by lowering tariff barriers and cracking down on tax havens.
But private economic activity tends to benefit the better off, while aid particularly benefits the poorest. Aid is also essential where private investment is not available, such as for research into the drugs and technologies we need to beat diseases like tuberculosis, which is still killing 1.7 million people a year.
Aid is also particularly effective in rebuilding countries ravaged by conflict. Our international development programme doesn’t just help the poorest — it gives us soft power to promote our vital interests abroad, and it contributes to our security. As a former US Defense Secretary said: “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
Britain’s aid budget, at £13 billion a year, is not small, although it is just 0.7 per cent of our national income. Like any taxpayer funding, we should make sure it is spent properly. And it’s reasonable to discuss how much help Britain can afford. But the sceptics can no longer deny the weight of evidence: aid works.
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