Does International Aid Matter?

21st Mar 2013

After 43 years of campaigning George Osborne announced yesterday that the UK is going to meet it's historic target of 0.7% life saving Aid. Thank you for all the help and support you have given over the years to make this a reality.

Watch our thank you video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yyQEVLuOR0

With the G8 summit due in June 2013, there have been concerns over the 0.7% International Aid* commitment from the UK to developing countries. Some government officials wanted to backtrack out of this pledge altogether due to recent spending reviews and others are concerned that the aid budget will go on military defence under the aid umbrella. In the lead up to the Chancellor's fourth budget speech on 20th March and in support of the IF campaign Oxfam Leeds hosted a discussion panel to debate the need for International aid with over 80 people on 9th March. The event was chaired by BBC's Len Tingle and sitting on the panel were local Leeds MP Greg Mulholland, John Hillary (director of War on want) and Dr Mogha Kamal-Yanni  (Senior Health and HIV policy adviser, Oxfam GB) all putting forward different views.

"Yes, aid matters"

Greg Mulholland opened the debate with a simple 'Yes' and an underlying explanation that it is 'the right thing to do', rhetorically challenging the room to speak out if they think we should not give aid. He spoke of feeling proud to stand by an over 40 year commitment to provide 0.7% GDP to those who are less fortunate than us and encouraged the audience to embrace this.

Historically the UK has 'very generously' given money as aid to countries in need, despite other countries not following suit. Greg pleaded with the audience to continue this commitment and join him in lobbying the chancellor and anti-aid politicians to support the international aid budget.

In reply to the media reports that aid is a 'waste of tax payer's money', it is spent badly or that it falls into the 'wrong hands' the minister compares it to the NHS, reiterating that unfortunately there is no guarantee, as with the rest of the tax payer's money, that every single last penny will be expended completely on the 'right thing', since it is filtered down via agencies. However, this is no excuse to completely cut the aid budget and Greg draws our attention to the fact that the Coalition is committed to 'getting it right', by employing strategies outlined in the 2011 report UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results.

"Aid is disempowering … a vehicle for control"

On the other side of the fence sits John Hillary. He argued profusely that we have been giving aid for decades and it is not the answer. On top of this he highlighted that the impact of our aid has been insignificant, citing examples of countries that have managed development with no aid. Hillary again raised the argument that historically money for aid has often ended up in the wrong hands, i.e. corrupt governments, preventing aid from reaching its intended recipients.

But is there an alternative? Can we really justify not helping people that need help? Hillary puts forward the need for just trade, tax justice, development of industrial policies and agencies. He highlighted numerous case studies whereby we [the UK], by giving aid, are 'perpetuating the status quo' and keeping countries in need of our help rather than helping them get out.  This is a financial burden for us and a development crisis for the other country. For example, China has never received aid from the UK but has undergone huge development and is now in a better position than most developing countries that are currently receiving aid.

The most poignant argument here is that tax justice is a vital change that is needed to ensure a fair distribution, since people in poverty cannot work their way out of poverty without basic structural and legal changes. Hillary concluded with the proposal that we have to amend laws to bring about change for aid to be effective.

"Quality and quantity"

Adding a welcome balance to the discussion is Dr Mogha Kamal-Yanni, who opened her speech by comparing aid to a chef's knife.  In the cook's hands it's a valuable cooking tool, but in the wrong hands it's a weapon to kill. She instead argued for international aid that is good in quality as well as quantity.

Dr Kamal-Yanni described her version of quality as including innovative finance, better policies and more structure. She also suggested combining aid with education, since aid on its own will do nothing but alleviate short term needs. Dr Kamal-Yanni raised the distinction between international development and international aid, highlighting the fact that they are not necessarily the same thing.

Drawing the debate back to John Hillary's arguments, Dr Kamal-Yanni stated that in the past it is not aid that has failed, it is the policies that have failed and it is these policies that are vital to ensuring successful aid distribution and use. Without aid we are reminded that the worlds poorest cannot afford vital drugs such as malaria and HIV vaccinations and treatment.

This report is written by Philippa Hardy from the Leeds Oxfam Group.

Key points: Aid needs to be about quality as well as quantity and other issues like tackling tax dodging will also help to increase the money available for development. It's a historic moment to have pledged the 0.7% and we need to be holding the government to account to make sure this is going on positive high quality life saving work as it was intended for and not on defence.

*What is international aid?

International aid is money collected from tax payers and distributed to countries less fortunate than us to develop health, education, sanitation, economic growth, mitigation against climate change, prevention of conflict and much more. The money is paid either directly to the respective government (approximately 16%) or through an independent agency. More than 40% of aid is spent via international bodies, the main recipients being the European Commission, World Bank, United Nations and the Global Fund. The rest of the aid is provided to international charities such as Oxfam, VSO and Action Aid; charities based in developing countries; and to third parties in need of relief from humanitarian crises.

A promise was made to give 0.7% of UK gross national income (about £12 billion) to international aid from 2013, outlined in the 2011 report UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results, despite our economic hard times. There have been recent concerns that the coalition government may backtrack on this promise and cut International aid due to fresh spending cut reviews.