Tuesday, 17 May 2011

In defence of aid

It was one of the decisions of the Coalition government that I could wholeheartedly support, the commitment to secure 0.7% of gross national income for overseas aid. This commitment was made in the Conservative’s 2010 election manifesto which stated:
A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income as aid.
We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.
To give the Tories credit, they did not use the excuse of coalition government to renege on this promise and have reaffirmed their commitment to legislate.

Today news has ‘leaked out’ that Liam Fox the Secretary of State for Defence has written to David Cameron opposing this proposal in the following terms:
Dear David Cameron,
I have considered the issue carefully, and discussed it with Andrew [Mitchell] and William Hague, but I cannot support the proposal in its current form.
In 2009 the proportion of national income spent on ODA [official development assistance] was only 0.52 per cent.
The Bill could limit HMG's ability to change its mind about the pace at which it reaches the target in order to direct more resources towards other activities or programmes rather than aid.
Furthermore, as a result of the wider drive to improve the transparency and accountability of international development work, the Government's own monitoring and reporting requirements for ODA are likely to become more stringent.
This may present risks to my department's ability to both report certain priority activities as ODA and, therefore, to receive funding for them from the Conflict Pool.
However, my primary concern is one akin to the internal debate we had over the Armed Forces covenant.
I believe that creating a statutory requirement to spend 0.7 per cent ODA carried more risk in terms of potential future legal challenges than, as we have for the covenant, putting into statute recognition of the target and a commitment to an annual report against it.
The latter would be my preferred way to proceed.
Liam Fox
Let’s consider Fox’s argument for a moment. Firstly he is worried that legislation will prevent the government’s ability to ‘change its mind’. That’s the point of the legislation, because it is precisely when the pressure is on that it is most convenient to look at soft targets like overseas aid as a place to save money. Those of us in parish ministry know how, particularly when the financial heat is turned up, there are always siren voices calling for us to reconsider our mission / charitable giving.

Secondly, Fox is worried that monitoring and reporting are becoming more stringent and this may limit the Defence Department’s ability to claim funds as overseas aid. Good, the legislation should prevent the government using money set aside for overseas aid for purposes that clearly are not aid. In January 2010 the Conservatives announced that they planned to use money designated for international aid for a military ‘stabilisation’ force. If legislation puts a stop to this sort of practice then that is to be welcomed.

Fox wants to water down the legislation because he is worried that the government might be held accountable for the promises and commitments it has made. Instead, Fox would prefer ‘targets’ and a ‘commitment to reporting’ rather than legally binding obligations. I hope this particular fox is shot before it gets too far out of its hole.

I’ll leave the last word on this matter to Cranmer who wrote a superb blog post in defence of overseas aid back in the autumn 2010 titled Man does not live by Trident alone. In a powerful, clear and sustained argument, Cranmer argued against reducing commitment to overseas aid and concluded with the following:
The freedom and fraternity which constitute our social fabric are fragile entities. But, insofar as these persist and are considered good, it is incumbent upon us to manifest them to those who have neither. Jesus did not only preach to the crowds, he fed them. He understood that you can’t talk about micro-credit to those with empty bellies…
If charity begins at home, our community and nation are deprived.
When we prioritise the world’s poorest and most destitute, justice may flow like a river.
The decision to increase the budget for International Development is a fundamentally Christian ethic.
It is about feeding the starving, healing the sick, housing the poor and educating the illiterate.
If any Conservative would rather hug a Harrier than help the destitute, he or she must be devoid of conscience.
George Osborne said: “Britons can hold their heads up high and say even in these difficult times, we will honour the promises made to some of the poorest people on our planet.”
The extra aid will halve the deaths from malaria, save the lives of 50,000 pregnant women and 250,000 babies.
We should be proud that George Osborne has made the UK the first country in the world to hit the United Nations target of donating 0.7 per cent of its national income to the world’s poor by 2013.
Righteousness exalts a nation.


Revsimmy said...


eddie said...

I'm not sure I agree with you on this one Phil. http://www.kouya.net/?p=4103

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks Eddie, having read your response I don't think we are necessarily in disagreement. I've left a comment on your post elucidating.

obreption said...

Not sure if my original comment went through or not - it was put on at about 9 this morning.

I thought you were being a bit harsh on Liam Fox. It was Gordon Brown who raised the issue of aid at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles. The Tories have continued the aid to their credit and have promised more transparency over the issue of trade and aid. What is so sad is the apparent abandonment of Haiti. I had mentioned that Edward Stourton had made a good programme on this subject for BBC Radio 4.