Tory MP hits back at rightwing foreign aid critics

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A Conservative MP is leading a fightback against tabloid and rightwing attacks on foreign aid with a new report on how the funds help to reduce poverty.

Nick Herbert, a former minister, said it was important to defend the effectiveness of aid at a time of pressure on western governments to cut back their spending.

In the foreword to his report, he said claims that aid had slowed growth and made the poor poorer did not stand up to scrutiny and detailed academic evidence shows these were minority views among development economists.

Foreign aid spending is unpopular with dozens of Conservative MPs and Ukip, as well as regularly coming under attack in the pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Express.

“Aid faces growing pressures,” Herbert said. “Wealthy western governments have been cutting back aid programmes, and there have been blistering tabloid attacks on Britain’s aid spending.

“The current cross-party consensus that Britain should remain one of the few countries that meet the UN’s 0.7% aid target is holding, but is vociferously challenged on the right.”

The report, by the Project for Modern Democracy, funded by the Gates Foundation, challenges the conclusions of aid’s opponents that it does not work.

“Yes, a few studies find little correlation between aid and economic growth or poverty rates. Yes, some aid initiatives fail. And yes, aid interventions can have unintended consequences, some of which can be negative,” said Herbert, who is chair of the Project for Modern Democracy.

“However, the clear majority of studies show that aid has a long-term, positive effect on a wide range of development-related indicators. Recent estimates suggest that modest amounts of aid can add as much as 1.5% to a recipient country’s annual growth, greater than the UK’s forecast growth for each of the next five years.”

Theresa May has committed to keeping aid spending at 0.7% of national income but was criticised for appointing Priti Patel, a critic of foreign aid, as her first development secretary.

Patel has been replaced by Penny Mordaunt, whose first statements have been about her commitment to aid spending.

After taking the job, Mordaunt said: “I believe in aid. I believe in the power it has to end disease, hunger and extreme poverty, to build strong economies and to help the world’s most vulnerable people live lives of dignity. Aid also allows us to influence and shape the world around us.”


Originally published in the Guardian on 1 December 2017.

Nick Herbert