Foreign Aid is undoubtedly necessary. It is one of our vital sources of Soft Power in today’s world, enhancing the power and effect of our diplomacy and trading authority.
So why not combine other initiatives with aid?
Over the years we have seen huge waste programmes, through which we have continued to pour millions of pounds. This has, in most waste cases, had little to no effect and has been severely misplaced. Foreign aid has been used to fund many vanity projects, the likes of which include the Ethiopian version of the Spice Girls, rarely used and virtually useless airports (we’re looking at you, St Helena). As well as that, we see staggering salaries for faceless charity bosses.
Ever heard of Marc Van Ameringen? His position is apparently valuable enough to herald £618,000 per year. That’s if you have donated to the Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition.
The same goes for Simon Cooke (guessing you’ve never heard of him either), who earns £420,000 per year as the British head of family planning charity Marie Stopes International.
The head of the International Rescue Committee earns around £530,000 per year, which supposedly funds refugees and disaster victims. Very good of a certain David Miliband to bleed the compassionate British public dry.
The list goes on.
The Department for International Development part-funds these massive salaries. That along with helping farmers grow coconuts in the Caribbean.
At least they don’t have to buy an expensive greenhouse or two.
We’ve also allowed money to fly under the radar to fund yoga therapy sessions in India, one of the world’s major state-funded Space Programme operators, a scheme on which enigmatic Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg holds the opinion that, in the land that invented meditation, is like “spending money to teach Catholicism to the Holy Father”.
These schemes, like how we similarly waste huge wage payments to the CEOs of councils, are completely pointless. Yet we spend billions on them. Considering each pothole costs just £44 to fill in on a local level – should Bury Council and councils like them have voted to increase the CEO’s wages by £13,000? It seems that they are willing to complain about budgets which have been “cut to the bone”, but equally willing to extort more and more council tax out of already cash-strapped constituents whilst paying their staff inexcusable wages.
Of course, it must be said that whilst I disagree with throwing money at useless schemes in other countries who may not need our money anyway, I do agree with providing humanitarian aid. We play a huge and vital part in helping victims of war and famine, giving human beings a life who may not have anyone else to help them in their hour of need. We have a moral obligation to help people, as one of the richest nations in the world. It is only right that we should continue to provide for victims of war and natural disasters.
Part of this aid could include a lending of skills, sending crews to help with rescues and sending humanitarian delegates on the ground to ensure successful completion of airdrops.
Admittedly, we must redirect some money into solving the homelessness problem. Progressive solutions for domestic problems like this would put us in a better position to help others as well.
We may be able to take some tips from our European neighbours in Finland who, through their “Housing First” model, have decreased homelessness by 1,200 in the years between 2008 and 2014. This quite simply saw the homeless given a home, rather than being moved between temporary accommodations continuously. They were then more likely to build on the security of their own house and make a life for themselves.
We can only do this if the government can carry on meeting its targets for house building. A reduction in the Foreign Aid budget could see millions invested here, so that we could strive to make more and more progress.
Of course, like Finland, much of this number could be made up from converting hostels into living spaces more appropriate for permanent use.
The aid which we provide has great potential to provide mutual benefits. It is all well and good to see massive amounts of money pour out of our coffers every year to do good in the world, but wouldn’t it be even better if it could help us as well?
A redirected strategy of aid through trade could do a lot more for everyone, promoting long term economic growth in the country in question as well as promoting cooperation and good moral values to help lift as many people as possible worldwide out of poverty.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should just pour investment into these countries straight away.
One way in which to achieve more of a trade element for the Department of International Development (DfID) could be simply to lift some tariffs and work with the Department for International Trade to secure progressive trade deals.
We could then influence domestic investment strategy, using more prominent soft power to ask governments to invest in more social projects.
There could yet be hope for the Ethiopian Spice Girls!
Another thing that I disagree with is the budget of DfID. This is commonly interpreted as a target – well, we do meet our infamous 0.7% requirement.
It should be a limit, not a target. Targets for spending encourage quantity over quality.
As such, a downsize would be required. DfID should be incorporated into the Foreign Office and the International Trade department, so that there could be more cooperation and coordination from one of the main offices of state.
Above all, the UK needs to cut down on grants to rich countries. This includes, from the figures of 2016, £93 million to India (who have their own space programme).
Admittedly, the £99 million spent on helping the citizens of Zimbabwe to help with malnutrition and the drought following ‘El Nino’ was excellent use of funds.
As we leave the EU, the deal which we will be striking will include even foreign aid. The difficulty of striking such a deal can not be underestimated, but the government is doing as well as could be expected. In 2016, 11% of our foreign aid budget made its way to Brussels to join up with the rest of the European Development Fund. Through this fund, we helped with the costs of many wasteful projects – not helped by the fact that we couldn’t stop our money being spent on them. We made up £20,128 of the £167,740 spent on juggling lessons in Tanzania – 12% of that total – along with £68,538 designated to a dancing project in the same country. This was all controlled by the European Development Fund – yet another faceless organisation in the bureaucratic monstrosity that is the EU.
I am not against foreign aid, but the system needs to be cleaned up, streamlined and made more efficient. That would mean a better world for everyone.