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Is the Coalition planning to abandon the pledge to overseas aid?


11:40 am - April 24th 2012

by Owen Tudor    


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For months, I have been warning that the coalition government may break its pledge to raise overseas aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI), and concern is growing among aid agencies and politicians.

The House of Lords have offered the coalition a way out by arguing that the overseas aid pledge should be abandoned.

One thing that the Government could do to quiet fears would be to fulfill a subsidiary pledge to put the promise of 0.7% GNI into legislation, but that pledge hangs in the balance.

Next month, the second Queen’s Speech of the coalition government will indicate whether that pledge will be fulfilled ahead of the deadline for meeting the target of 2013. But Ministers have been toning down their language on the pledge to legislate.

The Conservative Party manifesto promised that the legislation would be enacted in the first Parliamentary term, a pledge not repeated word for word in the coalition agreement (not that the Liberal Democrats disagreed with the Conservative pledge), but already broken.

Labour’s experienced and canny shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis has written to his opposite number pressing him on the issue.

There is an argument to be had over whether we should spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid, and about whether aid is the best way to make poverty history.

But there have to be very good arguments for abandoning a manifesto promise in this way, and the coalition simply hasn’t made that case.

If they break the pledge, however, the role it played in Conservative Party strategy – to detoxify their brand and convince liberally-minded voters that they were in favour of tackling the moral blot on humanity of global poverty – will begin to fail. The nasty party charge will be back.

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About the author
Owen Tudor is an occasional contributor to LC. He is head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department and blogs more regularly at the Touchstone blog.
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Reader comments


Why not?

Clegg has become a master of abandoning policies which he once endorsed. First his manifesto, and then coalition policy agreements.

If he brings down the govt he is out of job. He will try to stick it out for 5 years, so be prepared for him to give away the farm, rather than hold an election. The tories can demand almost anything.

Actually I couldnt care less, theres nothing inherently ‘progressive’ about charity and aid.

3. Chaise Guevara

@ 2

Yeah, who cares about human suffering if we can’t call ourselves “progressive” when dealing with it?

4. Chaise Guevara

@ 2

And callousness aside, state aid IS progressive: money taken from a relatively rich base (with the affluent paying more) to help those who are more in need. That’s as progressive as you like, as long as the aid actually does what it says on the tin.

Overseas Aid.

It is rather more important to know what our ‘Aid’ money is being spent on.

Overseas Aid used to be the budget from which Export Credit Guarantees (now renamed UK Export Finance) were sourced
.
An ‘Aid’ that our arms industry found invaluable when the odd dictator was unable to come up with the readies for their latest batch of ‘crowd control equipment’
It’s easy for our politicians to posture over the brutal repression of foreign nationals by their unelected leaders whilst turning a blind eye to the source and the funding of those weapons of repression

My personal belief is that overseas aid – with the exception of disaster relief in the case of earthquakes, tsunmamis and so forth – has created a democratic deficit in many countries in the global South.

When taxpayers from rich western nations fund healthcare and education in other countries, politicians in those countries are freed from the reponsability of dealing with those issues themselves. Political campaigns are as a result often based on religious, sectarian and nationalist issues as a direct result. Issues such as whether a country can become a great world power with a nuclear weapons program become more important than whether or not children have access to education, or women have access to health care.

I have become convinced that this is well known by British politicians and civil servants, and that the main reason for continuing handing out aid is for domestic political reasons.

If we truly wanted to help poorer countries, we would scrap our trade tarifs and subsidies, allowing them to trade with us on a fair basis. I suspect that both the British consumer and the poor of Africa, Asia and South America would benefit. Who would lose? Why, the already wealthy of course.

7. Luis Enrique

the argument against the 0.7 target is that in cases where aid really ought to be withdrawn (because of corruption or whatever) it isn’t, because of pressure to hit disbursement targets. Aid agency staff are rewarded for handing out aid, not withholding it. Pressure to hit disbursement targets may mean that donors generally care more about getting aid out the door and less about how effective it is.

If we wanted to, we could maintain our generosity but avoid these problems by having a system whereby aid withheld from one recipient gets reallocated to another, not necessarily within the same year but the money could be rolled back into the long-term aid budget, or we could give any money we are unable to allocate ourselves to the World Bank IDA or DGF fund or other multilateral like UNAIDS or similar.

so by the logic of aid and charity the most progressive people are often rich conservatives? David Cameron gives to charity, is he a progressive? Or is what constitutes an increasingly abused and meaningless word like ‘progressive’ more about politics with a capital P?

Splat has raised the political issues about aid, Im not denying charitable giving or aid can be useful and humane, but politically its either neutral, as an expression of base human goodwill or politically reactionary as it papers up the material and ideological problems as to why charity and/or aid is given.

I thought being a progressive was about solving problems through political solutions rather than chucking money at what is essentially a complex political problems that exists in the domestic setting of an aid recipient and the international setting.

Has Jeremy Hunt resigned yet? And if not why not?

Remember, according to James Murdoch the power at the BBC is chilling unlike private corporations. These people just lie and lie and lie.

Murdoch Stassi.

10. Luis Enrique

Stepleft

I thought being a progressive was about solving problems through political solutions rather than chucking money at what is essentially a complex political problems

I don’t see the distinction. What would you call policies such as 1. spending more money on education in poor areas 2. spending money to ensure poor households have good access to healthcare 3. spending money on training programs, apprenticeships and other assistance for the unemployed 4. making sure unemployment benefits are sufficiently generous 5. spending money to encouraging investment and create jobs in economically depressed areas

and so on

most of these look like “progressive” policies to me, but they also involve chucking money around. They also look like things foreign aid is spent on.

Latest……..

Cameron says he has full confidence in Jeremy Hunt. Proving that this govt is as dishonest and corrupt as you would expect from a bunch of posh shysters.

And still the idiotic and morally bankrupt lie dems continue to prop up these scoundrels.

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Step Left

“so by the logic of aid and charity the most progressive people are often rich conservatives? David Cameron gives to charity, is he a progressive? Or is what constitutes an increasingly abused and meaningless word like ‘progressive’ more about politics with a capital P?”

Tax. That’s what you’re missing. A progressive system doesn’t just hope that rich people will give the poor what they need out of the generosity of their hearts, it requires them to pay via taxation.

What I REALLY don’t get is that you now seem to be disparaging about the idea of progressiveness, but in your previous post a perceived lack of progressiveness was apparently enough to make you turn your back on people dying in the third world. Are you into progressiveness or not?

As for your last paragraph: false dichotomy. The first description covers the second description, for all that you bunged the disparaging phrase “chucking money” into the latter.

The problem for poorer countries is not because we dont redistribute wealth enough. Its because those countries cannot create masses of welath due to domestic issues and a large part of it because of the economic policies of western countries.

Western countries giving aid always have conditions attached to them, which undercuts the democracy is the recipient country. Not only that, but it acts as a pennance payment. Western countries paying a penny for the sins of stealing the pounds by kicking away the ladder in which welath and economic growth goes up on.

I believe, progressives should focus their efforts on changing their own governments international policies, instead of supporting the same governments who are the problem in aleviating their guilt and complicity as to why some countries are poor.

However the key aspect of progressive politics is supporting democracy in those countries. Poverty requires a political solution by the people who are in poverty. You, me and certainly our governments cannot solve that, nor should they. We can be allies by helping remove policies which restrict the political and economic freedoms of other countries. But that is about it. Aid is part of the problem, not the solution in defeating poverty.

Overseas aid is always going to be a thorny issue when the donating nation are undergoing financial hardships themselves. If Cameron or Clegg back down on this, it’s going to be perceived as a ‘win’ by much of their voter base anyway who are always suspicious about ‘greedy foreigners’ and the like.

However, overseas aid is never really charity as there’s always strings attached. ‘Development aid’ is often a ruse by which money is given to a government on the basis that they’ll later spend more money on buying something from the donating government: cf India et al. If it’s not later purchases it’s military intelligence or something similar. It’s never ‘aid’ or ‘charity’ per se.

There’s also the risk that money gets siphoned off long before it reaches any purported charity target. Money for schools, hospitals and sanitation often becomes money for guns, cars and status with only monetary crumbs reaching the needy. I’ve friends who work in a charity that actually go out to Uganda and, using the money they’ve raised, build schools and hospitals etc., because the system is too corrupt to trust with actual money.

There lies the rub with most overseas aid. We export our own corrupt politics in a piggy-back fashion with it. We create ‘friendly’ countries in which we try and mirror our democracies and values. The problem is, for much of the West, including (maybe especially) Britain, our own politics, democracy and value system is shitted-up and with much overseas aid we’re just smearing that shit around – just in new places.

We need a new model of overseas aid based on trade, debt relief and in concrete, tangible assistance. If they need schools and hospitals, we should provide those things and not money. Corrupt government officials struggle to spend buildings in the same they do with ready cash.

15. Just Visiting

The issue of Aid deserves a better debate than it’s getting here.

Watch this video of the experiences of folks on Wind Energy – from minute 58 you’ll see a very disillusioned young man who saw his time, and the charity money – being wasted before his very eyes overseas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1lry3f6rxE&feature=player_embedded#!

And an engineer who installed water pumps across Kenya in the 80s as a development project: went back in his retirement on holiday to visit the sites – not one had a working water pump any more.

If Overseas Aid is ‘Solving peoples problem without involving them’ – then it’s not a good thing, and doesn’t end up solving anything.

16. tigerdarwin

@ 6If we truly wanted to help poorer countries, we would scrap our trade tarifs and subsidies, allowing them to trade with us on a fair basis. I suspect that both the British consumer and the poor of Africa, Asia and South America would benefit. Who would lose?

true, however that should be in tandem with aid.

Aid should not be about shoring up dictators, which some has been for many years, it should be to help development and the poor.
However there is much good aid so to speak and the OFD is a cracking dept with many talented and committed people.

The real issue is of course the global env and this debate comes during the run to Rio plus 20.

I am making a formal complaint to the BBC about its lack of coverage- anyone want to join me

17. Mr A James

This Tory Led Coalition broke very open and public promises along with all the election pledges regarding the National Health Service. Now they have thrown it to the dogs to tear apart and scavenge on.

Why should we be surprised if they break yet another manifesto pledge, promise or whatever you would like to call it !

This Tory Led Coalition of evil has no conscience and never will have. It’s only interested is milking the system for what it can.

18. Paul Newman

Overseas aid is the single most unpopular form of state spending , before we even ask if it does any good we need to ask by what right the state has acquired a role in taking money from people to give away as charity.
The makeover phase of of Cameron`s leadership took place in benign conditions rthat are now over and for most people the continued fact of nearly 10% of the deficit simply being thrown away is simply astonishing

Remember this money , unlike other state spending is a direct loss to aggregate demand and it cannot fail to amuse lefty watchers how their new found Keynsian demand story gets forgotten when this subject comes up.

It is absurd to say that we should give away UK citizens money on the basis that people who live in other countries are poorer than they are , what duty exists here , what on earth is the principle , are we responsible for the entire globe when we cannot pay our mortgages .

19. So Much For Subtlety

3. Chaise Guevara

Yeah, who cares about human suffering if we can’t call ourselves “progressive” when dealing with it?

But it has nothing to do with human suffering. You hope that our aid does something about human suffering. In a small number of cases, mostly in the distant past, it did do something about human suffering. But you have no reason to think that it has anything to do with human suffering now. There have been enough stories showing how aid perpetuates civil wars and enriches Swiss bankers that you know there is no guaranteed link between aid and the relief of human suffering.

Chaise Guevara

And callousness aside, state aid IS progressive: money taken from a relatively rich base (with the affluent paying more) to help those who are more in need. That’s as progressive as you like, as long as the aid actually does what it says on the tin.

As long as the aid does what it says on the tin. If, on the other hand, a third of it goes to pay over-paid Western consultants, as it probably doesn’t but it may, then it is not progressive at all. If people in the Third World start wars in the hope of getting aid, as they seem to, then it does not matter if it is progressive as it is making everything worse.

Ultimately the people who support aid do so because it makes them feel good. Not because it helps. Which is why there is no demand for accountability. So we ought to stop it until we are sure it is doing good.

20. Chaise Guevara

@ 13 Step Left

International aid is certainly fucked up in many ways, and is sometimes economic imperialism by the back door. But a lot of programs do a hell of a lot of good (vaccinations spring to mind).

What you seem to be advocating – and apologies if I’ve got this wrong but it’s the impression I’m getting – is that we should turn our backs on aid entirely. Which would presumably mean no more vaccination programs, or at least now more that are backed by the government. That’s far too high a price to pay. Choosing to do nothing is still a choice.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 19 SMFS

I don’t disagree with any of this, but my point is that we shouldn’t dismiss all aid just because some, or even most, is deeply flawed or counterproductive. It’s the flaws that are the problem, not the concept of aid itself.

22. So Much For Subtlety

20. Chaise Guevara

International aid is certainly fucked up in many ways, and is sometimes economic imperialism by the back door. But a lot of programs do a hell of a lot of good (vaccinations spring to mind).

Vaccinations did a lot of good. But do they still? Keep in mind that those nice UN vaccination programmes may be what was responsible for making AIDS a global pandemic so even their net benefit is questionable.

Economic imperialism would be an improvement if we did things that way. We don’t. We give aid to people who hate us. The more they hate us, the more likely we are to give them aid. They soon learn that the way to get more aid out of us is to publicly hate us even more. Then we appease them. How is this in anyone’s interest – especially ours?

Which would presumably mean no more vaccination programs, or at least now more that are backed by the government. That’s far too high a price to pay.

No more backed by our government. Not no more vaccination programmes.

Chaise Guevara

I don’t disagree with any of this, but my point is that we shouldn’t dismiss all aid just because some, or even most, is deeply flawed or counterproductive. It’s the flaws that are the problem, not the concept of aid itself.

Why not? I would think if most was making the Third World worse off (and I would also think that is a reasonable assumption) that is an excellent reason to cease and desist. As I said, aid is about us. But it shouldn’t be. Its purpose should not be to give us a warm glow but to make the Third World better off. If it is not making them better off, we should halt it now.

Besides, the concept of aid is wrong. It turns them into beggars and does not help them. The most common degree for African students in Britain is Social Work. Because they all want jobs in the aid industry with a Western NGO. When they should be learning engineering or medicine. We have systematically distorted their economies. We should stop.

23. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“Vaccinations did a lot of good. But do they still? Keep in mind that those nice UN vaccination programmes may be what was responsible for making AIDS a global pandemic so even their net benefit is questionable.”

I’ll need a source for that – and a proper one, not some tinhat blogger. TBH I seem to remember someone repeatedly asking you to source this in a previous conversation.

“Economic imperialism would be an improvement if we did things that way. We don’t. We give aid to people who hate us. The more they hate us, the more likely we are to give them aid. They soon learn that the way to get more aid out of us is to publicly hate us even more. Then we appease them. How is this in anyone’s interest – especially ours?”

Normally because the aid comes with conditions attached. It doesn’t matter if the people hate us if we’re buying the government.

“No more backed by our government. Not no more vaccination programmes. ”

Sure, but governments can access a hell of a lot of money for such things.

“Why not? I would think if most was making the Third World worse off (and I would also think that is a reasonable assumption) that is an excellent reason to cease and desist.”

It’s an excellent reason to cease and desist *the specific aid programs that make the Third World worse off*.

“Besides, the concept of aid is wrong. It turns them into beggars and does not help them.”

Stopping someone dying from a preventable disease counts as “helping them”. Good modes of thought don’t help when you’re dead.

“The most common degree for African students in Britain is Social Work. Because they all want jobs in the aid industry with a Western NGO. When they should be learning engineering or medicine. We have systematically distorted their economies. We should stop.”

You do realise that “aid” doesn’t have to equal “handing out free food”, right? A lot of charities focus on providing the training/education and infrastructure that allow people to help themselves. It’s like the difference between putting every poor family on the dole for life, and providing free education to all children so that poor kids get a chance in life.

To be fair, I’m not sure how much government-backed aid takes this form. But where it exists it’s to be applauded, and I think that much of your concerns could be dealt with by switching to this model rather than cancelling aid altogether (and throwing the baby out with the bathwater).

24. So Much For Subtlety

23. Chaise Guevara

I’ll need a source for that – and a proper one, not some tinhat blogger. TBH I seem to remember someone repeatedly asking you to source this in a previous conversation.

I recall someone objecting. Not asking for a source. Not that I would be inclined to give one anyway. Why bother?

Normally because the aid comes with conditions attached. It doesn’t matter if the people hate us if we’re buying the government.

Well I don’t think people hate us. I think the government claims to. And the point you miss is that the more they say they hate us, the more we give them and the less control we exercise over how they spend that money. The Palestinians are entirely dependent on Western aid and virtually all we get in return in airplanes blown out of the sky. South Pacific islands may be poor and they may have ties to Britain, but as they do not denounce us for racism they do not get the funding that the people who do get.

Sure, but governments can access a hell of a lot of money for such things.

Sure. If they want to. But if we pay for it they don’t need to and so loot their own country some more. If we make things worse we need to stop. Our aid is not a pre-requisite for vaccinations so why fund it?

It’s an excellent reason to cease and desist *the specific aid programs that make the Third World worse off*.

If it is just a problem with a few rotten apples. This may be an article of faith with you but I would think the evidence on the whole suggests there is a problem with the entire concept. Even if you don’t go that far, it would be hard to think of any one programme that actually works.

Stopping someone dying from a preventable disease counts as “helping them”. Good modes of thought don’t help when you’re dead.

But we don’t do that except in extreme cases of famine. We fund African governments so that they do not have to prevent someone dying of a preventable disease. Not that we do much funding of that sort anyway.

You do realise that “aid” doesn’t have to equal “handing out free food”, right?

A degree in social work obviously suggests there is more than handing out free food as aid. Yes, I know.

A lot of charities focus on providing the training/education and infrastructure that allow people to help themselves. It’s like the difference between putting every poor family on the dole for life, and providing free education to all children so that poor kids get a chance in life.

This may be your fantasy of what aid does but it doesn’t. After all, our social workers have no skills or they would not be social workers. So they can hardly teach Africans anything useful. We do try from time to time. but most of the education we fund is run by Sociology or Women’s Studies courses and so is useless. If we are not teaching engineering or medicine, we are not teaching them a chance in life. And we are not teaching engineering or medicine. What we are doing is providing a chance to be on the dole forever. Which is why we have spent trillions in the Third World and it has had no effect whatsoever.

25. Chaise Guevara

@ SMFS

“I recall someone objecting. Not asking for a source. Not that I would be inclined to give one anyway. Why bother? ”

Cos otherwise we know you’re lying.

“Well I don’t think people hate us. I think the government claims to. And the point you miss is that the more they say they hate us, the more we give them and the less control we exercise over how they spend that money.”

OK. What’s your proposed explanation for this?

“Sure. If they want to. But if we pay for it they don’t need to and so loot their own country some more.”

Can’t follow.

“Our aid is not a pre-requisite for vaccinations so why fund it?”

Someone has to, basically. “Let someone else do it” is not a good approach to morality.

“If it is just a problem with a few rotten apples. This may be an article of faith with you but I would think the evidence on the whole suggests there is a problem with the entire concept. Even if you don’t go that far, it would be hard to think of any one programme that actually works.”

Vaccinations! The good they do is obvious, and all you’ve got against them is a claim that you interestingly refuse to source.

“But we don’t do that except in extreme cases of famine.”

I might just start typing “vaccinations” in reply to your every sentence, it would have a pretty good hit rate.

“This may be your fantasy of what aid does but it doesn’t.”

Yes it does, if we’re including charities as aid. The “teach a man to fish” concept is popular and has been around for awhile.

“After all, our social workers have no skills or they would not be social workers.”

This is just your usual crushing pessimism.

“So they can hardly teach Africans anything useful.”

Massive leap of logic. Even if your workers are unskilled, you teach them to fish then get them to go teach 1,000 poor people to fish (or whatever). There’s such a thing as training and learning on the job. I know you like to pretend that the glass is half-empty, cracked and filled with poison, but you’re not going to convince me by just ranting that everything’s shit.

“We do try from time to time. but most of the education we fund is run by Sociology or Women’s Studies courses and so is useless.”

Snobbery.

“If we are not teaching engineering or medicine, we are not teaching them a chance in life.”

I think you’re deliberately limiting your imagination. Have you never heard of self-sufficiency, literacy, farming etc?

“What we are doing is providing a chance to be on the dole forever.”

Nah, now you’re pretending we’re talking about the “hand out free food” model of aid again.

“Which is why we have spent trillions in the Third World and it has had no effect whatsoever.”

Go tell that to the kids not dying of treatable diseases.

26. So Much For Subtlety

25. Chaise Guevara

Cos otherwise we know you’re lying.

No you won’t. Come on, Chaise, yes you can be childish and you often willfully mis-read people – and don’t even get me started on your glamorisation of Che – but you are not usually this stupid. Whether or not I provide a source you have no idea if I genuinely believe this or not. Even if you thought you did, I did not claim the UN did any such thing. I claimed it may have. You cannot prove a lie there. Because, self evidently, it may have.

Now perhaps you might like to try again?

However as I am feeling generous:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1088484/pdf/TB010911.pdf

That source enough for you?

OK. What’s your proposed explanation for this?

Our rulers are spineless weasels. And the squeaking wheel gets the most grease. We would not have heard of half the Third World if they were not throwing insults and the odd terrorist.

Someone has to, basically. “Let someone else do it” is not a good approach to morality.

Actually letting someone else do it is an excellent approach to morality depending on the situation. We have covered the “teach them to fish” concept and so if you think it is better that people fish for themselves rather than have us give them fish, even you concede that. If our aid just allows Africans to continue to have dysfunctional government, then providing that aid does them no favours at all. And we should stop.

Vaccinations! The good they do is obvious, and all you’ve got against them is a claim that you interestingly refuse to source.

Vaccinations used to do good. As I said, that does not mean they still do good. Or that our aid money is a pre-condition for those programmes to continue.

I might just start typing “vaccinations” in reply to your every sentence, it would have a pretty good hit rate.

And it would be an improvement over the counter-arguments I usually get around here too.

This is just your usual crushing pessimism.

Yeah but it is also true. As any visit to any Social Work Department would show.

Massive leap of logic. Even if your workers are unskilled, you teach them to fish then get them to go teach 1,000 poor people to fish (or whatever). There’s such a thing as training and learning on the job. I know you like to pretend that the glass is half-empty, cracked and filled with poison, but you’re not going to convince me by just ranting that everything’s shit.

But what makes you think they know how to fish? A bit insulting to Africans anyway – as if they have not been fishing for 5000 years or more. But let’s leave that aside. What makes you think any aid workers have skills worth teaching? Or that can be taught in the African context if they do?

Snobbery.

No it isn’t. “Empowering women” is an increasing catch phrase. They even got women’s seats in the Afghan Parliament. Alienating Afghans I expect. No signs that it does a damn bit of good to the local economy at all. Sending out women’s studies graduates is not going to help India or anyone else.

I think you’re deliberately limiting your imagination. Have you never heard of self-sufficiency, literacy, farming etc?

I don’t think Africa has a problem with farming or even self-sufficiency. They have a problem with engineering-related issues. Clean water. Roads. Railways. Electricity supplies.

Nah, now you’re pretending we’re talking about the “hand out free food” model of aid again.

Which is what most Africans enrolled in Social Work course means. We may not be handing out free food, but we are handing out cushy jobs with NGOs and hence most bright Africans don’t want to study engineering but something utterly useless like Social Work.

Go tell that to the kids not dying of treatable diseases.

If you can find one who is not dying because of the West, sure. In the meantime, my source shows the high likelihood that the HIV epidemic is a result of the UN’s use of unclean needles. Any good we did with those treatable diseases is likely to be swamped by the toll from AIDS.


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