Ben Lowry: The case in favour of 0.7% foreign aid

A logistics officer placing UK aid stickers onto cargo pallets containing British aid items destined for areas suffering humanitarian crisis at DFID's UK Disaster Response Operations Centre at Cotswold Airport, Kemble. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
A logistics officer placing UK aid stickers onto cargo pallets containing British aid items destined for areas suffering humanitarian crisis at DFID's UK Disaster Response Operations Centre at Cotswold Airport, Kemble. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The right wing of the Conservative Party will be disappointed that Theresa May is keeping the UK commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid.

Even though my own politics is right of centre on key economic issues such as welfare reform and eliminating the deficit, I am a supporter of this 0.7% commitment.

Even if you believe strongly in a meritocracy and in personal responsibility, those values barely get a look-in in the third world. Whether or not one lives well or survives or prospers in a vast African city such a Dakar, where the slums stretch for mile after mile, is not a matter of effort.

Bright kids who are born into such poverty, who might if they lived in Britain be able to study hard and get to a good university and have a fulfilling career, have no such prospects, no matter how conscientious they are.

It is also disturbing to see people in such countries walking round in crutches because they had polio, which was eliminated in the West more than half a century ago, or see them prone to other easily eradicable diseases.

Many of these problems are set to get worse in Africa, as its population continues to rise up towards the terrifying projected figure of two billion.

The waves of migrants that we are seeing, leading to mass drownings in the Mediterranean, might be only the beginning of such movements.

Who can blame people born into such a situation risking all in a bid to live like us?

While I believe the UK must fiercely protect its borders and build a skilled, low-tax economy with low public debts, we have to give something back to the world’s destitute if we succeed in that aim.

It is hard to keep donated money out of the hands of despots and corrupt officials, but there must be ways of using our wealth to help improve the lot of mankind overall, as that admirable tycoon Bill Gates has spent so much of his fortune trying to do.

Also to help advise chaotic countries on good governance.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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