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Unboxing the myths: foreign aid
UK aid has been a hot topic this year and it looks set to stay on the agenda as we enter 2019. As many debate the benefits of assisting developing countries overseas, here we provide some clarity about what aid is and why it is important.
Firstly, the facts.
- International aid accounts for 0.7% of the UK government’s overall budget. This means, for every £1 you spend in tax, 0.7p goes on foreign aid.
- Why 0.7%? Since 1970, the UN has urged wealthy countries to spend 0.7% to support poorer countries and meet worldwide goals on eradicating poverty. In 2013, this target was enshrined in law in the UK.
- The top five countries receiving aid in 2017 were Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Syria and Somalia. Many of the people living in these countries face conflict, extreme poverty and unstable climates.
- Most of the money is allocated to the Department for International Development (DFID). DFID is subject to rigorous independent and parliamentary scrutiny, and is among the most transparent in the world.
Why should you support foreign aid?
UK aid aims to reach some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. It saves lives, reduces poverty and helps build a better world for everyone. From the earthquake which devastated Nepal to ebola and the hunger crisis in East Africa, the UK has provided lifesaving aid when people need it the most.
UK aid has strict reporting structures in place ensuring best value for money for the taxpayer. These structures also ensure that aid reaches the poorest people. It is not only crucial in times of crisis and disaster, but in the long-term fight against poverty and the injustices that hit the poorest people hardest.
We have all seen the images that we associate with poverty, conflict and natural disasters. For many complex reasons, governments in very poor countries are not always able to support the needs of their population, especially when unpredictable events happen. This is where aid comes in. The contribution that we make as taxpayers is something that we can all be proud of. Charity should begin at home, but it should not end at home. We are bigger and better than that. This idea that we must choose between helping at home or abroad is a false choice. The reality is, if I need to find a hospital or a doctor in the UK I can, but this isn't true for people living the poorest countries.
Recent years have seen the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world halved. The Global Hunger Index, designed to track hunger by country and region, shows that hunger has declined by 28% worldwide since 2000. International aid is ensuring that this continues.
In 2017/2018, UK Aid supported 11.4 million children to gain a decent education, 42 million women of child-bearing age, adolescent girls and children under 5 received nutrition support and 40 million people now have access to clean water and/or better sanitation (DFID Figures).
These are just some of the foreign aid ‘wins’. The fact is, aid works and Britain is at the forefront of ensuring this continues thanks to the generosity of UK taxpayers.
If aid works, why do we need to keep giving?
Global poverty is never going to be solved overnight. Shifting contexts such as climate change and conflict are pushing many people into poverty either because their homes are being destroyed and they have no access to food and water, as is the case in Syria, or because they are being pushed to the brink of starvation as we can see in East Africa.
We will reach a point where there will be no need for foreign aid. Until that day, we must ensure that the world’s poor and vulnerable are not forgotten.