Opinion: Britain’s foreign aid isn’t viable in this economic climate

THIS week saw the return of Children in Need, and all of its money raising schemes to help children in need across the globe.

The British government is wasting billions on aid that could be used to improve services in it's own country. Flickr/bobspicturebox

The British government is wasting billions on aid that could be used to improve services in it’s own country. Flickr/bobspicturebox

The British public have responded to both with staggering generosity. Children in Need raised £31million on the night, surpassing last year’s total of £26million, whilst the UK government has currently given £50million to help those affected in the Philippines and says it will match whatever the public give. On a whole, the British public is one of the most generous in the world in giving to private charity and its government is similar in its generosity.

As of September this year, the British government’s aid budget was £12billion. It has risen by 35 per cent across this government’s tenure whilst cuts are implemented in nearly every other department. Of all the countries in the G8, we give the most to other countries around the world. For example, in June this year Prime Minister David Cameron pledged an extra £375m to help feed the world’s hungriest children. He then followed this up by giving £400m to Syria.

We are in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns the country has ever suffered, whilst government cuts are rife across the board, and we are sending money to help foreign countries. It rankles even more when you consider some of the countries we give money to. Another example is India, who recently launched its own space programme, yet we gave them £292m in aid in 2012. Imagine what the NHS could do with that kind of money.

Even worse, according to reports, less than 10 per cent of Britain’s aid budget goes into humanitarian or emergency aid. Essentially, billions of pounds that could be spent on improving standards of medicine, policing, education and other needy departments in the UK, is being thrown into a black hole never to be seen again. It is hardly a secret that most of the aid we are sending does not go to the improvement of the people either. In fact, most of it ends up lining the treasuries of their corrupt governments or being needlessly wasted by charities.

Meanwhile, in our own country, many have been forced to visit food banks as the recession has hit hard. For many, Christmas this year will be a hardship they cannot afford. Rising energy prices have hardly made things easier either. Everywhere the average British citizen is being taxed more, paying more for services and in increasing levels of debt, yet our government is determined on helping those in other countries.

That is not to say that we should simply stop giving money to aid foreign development. We as a country could not simply sit back and watch as those in the Philippines, Syria, Haiti or wherever it may be, are left devastated.  We are too far along to simply withdraw foreign aid completely, nor would I advocate such a thing, as charity is needed across the world.

It is also obvious that charity does indeed help, as reports show it helps to eradicate preventable illnesses and educate children in the world’s poorest areas whilst improving all sorts of different factors in countries. However, how can we help these people in need if their own government does not help them first? Alongside that, how can we continue to ignore, and in some cases make harder, the lives of those who are needy in our own country whilst helping those across the globe?

The old saying is that charity starts at home. Though it is not as clear cut as helping others whilst ignoring our own, surely it is the job of our government to help its own people first, and then worry about achieving the 0.7 per cent of GDP the UN says every country should aim for to help other across the globe.  It is worth highlighting that Germany, who we are constantly reminded are doing rather well of late, gives less that 0.4 per cent, whilst the US only gives 0.2 per cent. We may certainly have the moral ground, but is this level of donation economically viable? It is a question worth pondering. Get your own house in order first Mr Cameron, then worry about saving the world.

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