By James Morley
The news recently has featured several stories regarding the Conservative government’s pledge to reduce the foreign aid bill. This decision to cut £4bn from the foreign aid budget has been explained as a necessary measure to reduce spending following the vast amounts of cash poured into the economy to keep it mildly afloat during the Coronavirus pandemic.
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However, it would be naïve to assume that this wasn’t also opportunistic. Foreign aid is an easy programme for governments to hack away at and has very few consequences in the short term as no one that is positively affected votes in UK elections. There’s also an incentive for the government to reduce this support for some of the most vulnerable around the globe – as 72% of respondents in a recent UK survey said they believed foreign aid should be reduced or stopped completely during the pandemic.
The Conservative government has been able to capitalise on public scepticism towards charity and benevolence in a time of crisis and continue to push forward its agenda of rugged individualism. This may be popular in the short term, as it clearly hasn’t hurt their electability, but it will be devastating in the long term.
There are many good moral reasons for sustaining and increasing foreign aid, and to my mind they are all good enough: Britain is wealthy and in the privileged position of being able to help people who desperately need it; Much of today’s modern poverty can be traced back to British and European Colonialism so we have a responsibility to help those we have hurt in the past; The global economy has extracted huge amounts of wealth from the developing world, and so wealthy nations like the UK have a moral duty to share that wealth globally.
However, for many moral reasoning isn’t enough when considering how a government spends taxpayer money. They need to be convinced that every penny spent will have some form of benefit for them, because if not it should stay in their pocket. So, this article is here to explain to everyone why it will be in your benefit to see foreign aid grow and develop.
The first thing to consider is the elephant. This is the model that shows us where wealth has been going over the past 30 years of globalisation. Wealth has been staying in developing nations to some extent and bolstering the household income for some of the worst off. Now at first this may look like a reason to stop foreign aid, but it is not. Firstly, the very poor (bottom 2-3%) have got even poorer and so need support. Secondly, the growth of wealth in the developing world will have countless economic consequences. The chain reaction isn’t simple, but the growth and development of these economies will see science, innovation, and entrepreneurialism continue to grow. More of the global economy and wealth will move to invest in these developments and estimates suggest that within a decade the developing world will account for 60% of the global economy.
Foreign aid is an investment. Every penny the UK sends abroad is a bridge. It is building towards this emerging portion of the world and is an investment in the future of British young people. Britain will become increasingly dependent on good trade and diplomatic relationships with the developing world. It needs to be supporting education, healthcare, family planning, and infrastructure development. Britain needs to be a partner. The future of the UK economy is dependent on a relationship that it is straining, as it continues to see no value in redistributing wealth to those parts of the world, and those development projects, that need it most.
Secondly, we need to consider resources. There are only a finite number of natural resources and the developing world has a lot of them. Much of the developing world is rich in oil, precious metals, and uranium. These are all resources that the global economy depends on. The long colonial experience of the developing world is rooted in the West’s desire to hoard these resources for their own development, and they still need them. However, as these resources get scarcer, and the developing nations themselves now need to use them as much, or more, than the developed nations of the world, there is going to be fierce competition. It helps if the countries producing these resources see you as a friend and investor.
This is something the behemoth of China has figured out very quickly during its rapid twentieth century growth. China has provided 53% of international funding for power projects in Africa, compared with just 3% from the US. In exchange for its investments China has been able to gobble up oil and other natural resources at an alarming rate, fuelling its economic development. Now, I’m not saying the UK should model its approach on China’s Everything China does reeks of neo-colonialism: it is a way to exert economic (an inevitably, political) influence, and make it easier to exploit the labour and resources of the developing world, and damage local customs and values, to replace them with the economic values of China. This neo-colonialism is also something the UK and USA are guilty of, China has just been splashing the cash more to do it, and now we are positioned to be better.
The UK needs to approach foreign aid both rationally and moralistically. Britain needs to be an investor and partner. It needs to work hard to improve the lives of locals and build real ties with communities. It needs to direct money to projects that are run by locals, who know how to improve lives and grow the economy without sacrificing the identity of these nations. Britain must spend more on supporting the developing world in a way that works. If it doesn’t then the young people of today will find themselves struggling to find a place for Britain in the global economy when they are the leaders of tomorrow.
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