Over the course of this Parliament the Government will spend more than £50bn on foreign aid and development. When we are spending at a rate we cannot afford and are having to make cuts to Government spending, the argument is made that we should therefore cut this area of the budget. Such brutal selfishness should be dismissed: the pertinent question is surely not whether we can afford to help, but how we can best help. It seems ridiculous that we can still believe that aid is the answer.
Take some of the more controversial of countries to have received money in recent years – China, Brazil and India. These places have been hugely successful; formerly termed “emerging economies”, they now loom as potential giants. In many ways western economies are right to envy their position. But all is not well. The abject poverty in these places is appalling. Living lives we cannot bear to imagine, millions of people struggle to survive with no access to basic shelter, healthcare, education or clean water. How is this possible?
We pour in aid thinking somehow this will solve the problem. Ironically we make it worse, entrenching the structures and systems which create the hurdles that prevent the development of local infrastructure and a means out of poverty. We distort local markets with the money we plough in.
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