Britain needs a radically different approach to aid

Brazil’s move above the UK in the world’s latest economic rankings has produced a predictable outcry about the fact that we still give the country aid at all. As lives are at stake, though, the issue surely deserves a slightly more thoughtful response. At a time when it is estimated that more than 9 million children die each year from largely preventable causes we have a moral duty to do everything in our power to help them.

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.

Read the rest of the article on the Daily Telegraph website.

Communications Director

Ruth Porter is Communications Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. She has worked in public policy and communications for nearly a decade. During this time she has represented UK businesses working in areas including software, energy and electronics. She studied politics and philosophy at the University of Warwick before moving to New Zealand, where she worked for the independent think tank, Maxim Institute. Ruth worked on the research team looking at a wide range of issues from social policy to tax reform. She co-authored a series of reports on education that won the Innovative Projects category of the Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Awards and edited the book Pursuing social justice in New Zealand, which was launched by New Zealand's Governor-General. She has written for various publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Sunday Times, she also writes regularly for the Daily Telegraph website and is a frequent commentator in the British media on programmes such as Newsnight and Sky’s Boulton & Co.

2 thoughts on “Britain needs a radically different approach to aid”

  1. Posted 04/01/2012 at 13:26 | Permalink

    Re: We have a moral duty to do everything etc. That is a very laudable aim. But if taken as read it means the UK should be helping poor people in the USA who are on food stamps and welfare and cannot get health care. Does our “moral duty” cover the entire planet or are there bounds to it? If so where do these bounds lie?
    By the way, I note that a micor finance bank set up to help poor countries, which I have supported for years, does indeed have USA based ‘poor people’ asking for loans. What do you say to that?

  2. Posted 04/01/2012 at 16:03 | Permalink

    It is bizarre that the size of Brazil’s total economic output should have anything to do with the debate so well done for pointing that out. If any output measure should have anything to do with the aid debate at all, it should be output per head. Brazil’s total output has been bigger than Luxembourg’s probably for ever, but does that make Brazilian’s richer? But, I also think that the “moral case” needs more justification. Why is it brutally selfish to argue in favour of cutting the amount of other people’s money that I vote to give to the poor? And who is the “we” who have a moral duty – is it all of us who have a moral duty with own resources (with which I agree) or all of us who have a moral duty to give other people’s money? Regardless of whether aid works, the morality of voting to give other people’s money to the poor is, I think, more complex.

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