UK foreign aid splurge draws wrath of critics

Rule Britannia? The UK passed a law enshrining its commitment to the 0.7% figure last year.

A new report says Britain is spending much more of its wealth on foreign aid than the world’s other rich democracies. Compassionate and sensible? Or encouraging dependency and corruption?

Halving malaria deaths in the world’s ten worst affected countries. Sending 9m children to primary school. Saving 250,000 newborn babies’ lives.

The UK’s foreign aid budget is designed with noble goals in mind. Since 1970, rich nations have committed themselves to giving 0.7% of their wealth to fund services, infrastructure and relief in the developing world. But yesterday a report revealed that Britain is the only one of the G7 — the richest democracies — doing so.

In 2014 the UK spent £13.2 billion on foreign aid, a 144% rise from a decade earlier. In the same period, Japan’s aid budget rose just 4%.

The government says it is ‘proud of its commitment’, which it describes as ‘firmly in the national interest’. Last year it spent £900m helping Syrian refugees and £230m controlling the spread of ebola. And some would like to see them spend more.

Others are unhappy. A petition which says the 0.7% target is ‘leading to huge waste and corruption’ has gathered 230,000 signatures. Critics say some money is spent on wasteful projects. And in 2016-17, £421m is due to go to the world’s ten most corrupt countries.

‘We are clearly the mugs of the world,’ said Conservative MP Philip Davies yesterday. His colleague Peter Bone said ‘other countries are… probably giving aid on the basis of where it is needed rather than an arbitrary figure’.

Rich countries first gave money to poorer ones in the 19th century; by the 1920s imperial powers regularly gave aid to their colonies to help them build infrastructure.

During the Cold War, the USA and USSR spent money competing for the allegiance of third world countries and aid began to be used for humanitarian purposes. In the 1980s debt-ridden countries were given aid to help them pay their bills.

More recently, rising global powers have undertaken aid projects which are based on mutual self-interest. For example, China provides economic support for social development in Africa, in return for better access to African raw materials.

Aided and abetted?

Britain should be proud, say some. Our common humanity demands showing compassion towards those in need. Leading aid agencies like Oxfam say the UK is making a difference in the world’s major crises. And aid is in rich nations’ interests: it spreads wealth, gives people a stake in the success of the global economy and creates markets to sell to.

Nonsense, say others. Aid may make Britons feel good, but much of their money ends up wasted or in the hands of corrupt, repressive governments. It has a sinister reek of colonial control and creates dependency, undermining enterprise in recipients’ economies. The government should ignore the meaningless 0.7% target and cut back.

You Decide

  1. Would you be happy for the government to spend 0.7% of your wealth on aid?
  2. Should Britain be proud of meeting its aid target?


  1. Work in groups of four. You have formed a charity to tackle a major problem of your choice in the developing world. Discuss what you could do about it. How would you make sure you spend your money wisely?
  2. Research a real-life project which was funded by international aid money. Prepare a one-minute talk to your class explaining what it did and whether you think it was worthwhile.

Some People Say...

“Giving people anything for free does more harm than good.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t pay income tax, so this is not my money. Does it affect me?
You will pay tax when you are older, and will have an interest in knowing how it is being spent on your behalf. You will also have a stake in tackling major global problems — such as disease and poverty. And corrupt or wasteful governments could cause economic instability and social unrest. All of this will affect you more as the world becomes more globalised.
I’m not from the UK. Why does this matter to me?
This topic affects people in every country. All developed countries are supposed to try to meet the 0.7% target — not just those in the G7. And the more money that is given in aid, the more the world economy will change, along with the lives of many people. This will affect how rich or poor we all are.

Word Watch

This was agreed under a UN general assembly resolution.
In 2013, five countries outside the G7 met or exceeded the target.
£13.2 billion
Nearly 40% of the budget goes to multilateral (ie, where aid is pooled) organisations such as the UN; the rest to developing countries bilaterally (ie, government to government). In 2013, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh received the most bilateral aid from the UK.
The UK’s money helped to provide basic supplies in refugee camps in Syria’s neighbours Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
In the 2015 election, the Green Party called for aid spending to be increased to 1% of GDP.
In recent years £15m was spent trying to reduce cow flatulence in Columbia; £3m was used to raise ‘awareness’ of British football in China.
As measured by Transparency International.
Cold War
Roughly 1945-1989. The US Marshall Plan also aided western Europe in the late 1940s.
Third world
Capitalist countries were the ‘first’ world and communist the ‘second’. Third world countries tended to be poor and politically unaligned.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.