This is a guest blog post from Norwich Grassroots Group Leader Ann Marie Pointer. It first appeared in the Norwich Evening News on Wednesday, 25 March 2015. One of the last bills to go through this Parliament will be the Foreign Aid bill. It will commit the UK to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on Aid. It’s the first of the G7 nations to do this. Think of GNI as the amount of money the government has to spend. 0.7% is like the money you find down the back of the sofa. Seven pence out of every £10 – doesn’t sound like a lot.  Yet when you hear the actual amount it does – £11.4 billion last year. People get very agitated about foreign aid yet most know very little about it. Cuts to services in the UK bring the question – ‘What about the billions that leave our country and are spent by corrupt dictatorships in third world countries?’ The assumption being that:

a. This £11 billion could sort out the NHS/ welfare cuts etc. and

b. Foreign governments are corrupt.

Stop and think about b. for a moment. The news is full of allegations of cover ups of sexual shenanigans of prominent people. Prospective election candidates are in the Sunday papers for dodgy dealings. And let’s not forget the MPs’ expenses scandal of a few years ago – moats and dovecotes anyone?  My point being that how can we can we berate others when our own establishment is far from squeaky clean. Tax avoidance, tax evasion, cash for questions, banks behaving badly. So when anyone says we shouldn’t be giving foreign aid to developing countries because they are corrupt I am reminded of the Biblical image of taking the beam out of your own eye before the splinter out of someone else’s. I’m not making excuses for it when it has happened to aid money. Corruption is wrong on every level and in every place but let’s stop being holier than thou about it. It’s no reason not to try to alleviate extreme poverty. Let’s look at a.  There is a common consensus that the aid bill is so huge that it would make a huge difference if we kept it at home. Aid costs about £11 billion a year. A huge amount in numbers but a very small amount of GNI. The government spent in the region of £130 billion on the NHS in the last year. Social Security, £110 billion. Total government spending was in the region of £730 billion. The Daily Telegraph reported late last summer that drugs for diabetes were now costing £2.2 million per day. That’s how the money goes. So what has our aid money been spent on? The Department for International Development are the people who administer aid money. They have been working with other nations since 2000 and in the last 15 years extreme poverty worldwide has been halved. Aid money is not just for emergencies. It goes to specific projects on health and education to name just two. Since the millennium your money has:

  • Immunized more than 55 million children.
  • Saved the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Helped 10 million more women to access family planning.
  • Halved malaria deaths in 10 of the worst affected countries.

Check out the official DFID website and see exactly what it has achieved. Aid should be celebrated not hidden. You may see aid as altruistic but on the other hand supporting nations to improve their health, education, governance and economies means that they are less likely to be places where extremism breeds. If we help them to make their lives better they are less likely to be our enemies!