Rich or poor? Divided India remains an aid target
The UK is to give more than £1bn in aid to India - a polarised society where one in four lives in poverty while the list of billionaires grows. But should charity begin at home?
This is a tale of two nations.
One India has a booming economy, growing at over 8 per cent every year, an ever-longer list of millionaires and billionaires, its own space programme, nuclear weapons and a glamorous film industry.
The other India is blighted by poverty and disease. Two and a quarter million have HIV, and around 34 per cent are illiterate. Millions are living in extreme poverty.
The inequalities are stark, and constantly on show. Take Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, who recently moved into the world's most expensive home, custom-built for him with three helipads on the roof of its 27 storeys. This plutocrat's palace is in the middle of Mumbai, a city where more than 60 per cent of people live in slums.
For Britain, as we decide how best to deploy international aid, the polarities of Indian society present a difficult dilemma. The Indian super-rich are becoming richer, with the combined wealth of the country's 100 richest people equal to around a quarter of national income.
But the runaway success of the economy and of a clutch of individuals has not translated into enough progress in lifting people out of grinding poverty. Women and children, those in isolated rural areas, and people of low caste suffer the most.
Western governments still feel they should intervene. And yesterday Andrew Mitchell, the cabinet minister for international development, argued that because India is home to a third of the world's malnourished children, and still has 'more poor people in it than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa,' he had decided to continue giving £280m every year until 2015.
'Some people in both the UK and India have been asking whether the time has come to end British aid to India. In my view we are not there yet.'
Mitchell said the world would never meet the internationally agreed targets for tackling poverty unless big progress was made in India.
Government spending at home is being cut back radically, provoking howls of protest. International development aid is one of the only protected areas, which has caused grumbling and discontent in some Conservative quarters.
The recession and public sector cuts have led to calls to scale back overseas aid, both in the UK and in the US. And pressure is growing on India's corporations and rich individuals to increase charitable giving. But in the meantime Britain will continue to channel its taxpayers' money there, to rescue some of the poorest people on the planet.
- Should UK taxes be spent helping poor people thousands of miles away? Why?
- Charity, including overseas aid, makes people dependent and robs them of their initiative. Do you agree?
- Write a short advertisement, either as a storyboard, or a poster with text, explaining the government's decision to fund aid projects in a country with a booming economy. Is it difficult to make your argument?
- Research the UN Millennium Development Goals (see links below) and find out what progress India is making at reaching them. What are the biggest obstacles?
Some People Say...
“If they can afford the bomb, they don't need help.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- How do we know that India is really a good target for aid?
- The international measure of extreme poverty is living on less than $1.25 per day, and in India, that is over 40 per cent of the population. Plus, the country is nowhere near meeting the United Nations' Millenium Development Goals, the agreed international plan to curb poverty.
- But it sounds like there's wealth there to spread around.
- Yes, hence the controversy. And politically Andrew Mitchell has to show that he is making the right decisions about aid because his £7.7bn budget isn't being cut, unlike most other government departments. The Chancellor, George Osborne, sent him a text message warning, 'Spend it well.'
- What about the Indian politics?
- Well, because Britain is the former colonial ruler, the whole idea of help from the UK is sensitive.