Ben Lowry: Spending on foreign aid should, if anything, go up

More and more migrants might risk their lives to come here
More and more migrants might risk their lives to come here

Britain’s foreign aid budget is back in the spotlight.

People such as me, who have blunt views about robustly tackling Islamic terror and firmly controlling immigration and strongly backing welfare reform are usually hostile to the foreign aid budget.

But I think our foreign aid budget is not only essential, there is a moral case for raising it from its current 0.7% of gross national income. Britain is already one of the few nations to meet that 0.7 UN target.

This has led to furious criticism of David Cameron for squandering precious public funds on corrupt foreign dictators. But I think it is something for Britain to be proud of and will be a key part of the prime minister’s legacy.

The global wealth imbalance, from which we benefit so much, is not only obscene, it is very dangerous. The problems in the Mediterranean, which I saw up close in the island of Lesbos last year (which has been overwhelmed with migrants), might only be the start of a global population movement without parallel.

The more challenging migration trend is not from Syria but from Africa, where the surging population is arguably the biggest crisis on Earth.

The continent that is least equipped to cope with such an increase already has a population over a billion (up from 500 million 30 years ago) and is hurtling towards two billion.

Most people in Africa live in the absolute poverty that makes our own definitions of relative poverty almost laughable in comparison.

Now they can see on their smartphones how we live and they want part of the action, as would we if we grew up in such desperate circumstances.

Hundreds of millions of the recently increased African population are not yet at the age where they can travel, but travel they will when it is a choice between that and destitution. Many people are already prepared to risk death crossing desert and sea.

There are other long-term ways to help the Third World such as altering trade arrangements. In the short term, however, I think it is legitimate for us to pursue our own national interests and to try hard to maintain our position as one of the most developed and wealthy countries in the world. But we must also be generous having achieved and maintained that position.

It is clearly the case that a lot of foreign aid ends up in the hands of dictators. Africa is riddled with corruption.

But I think our assistance will have to be in relation to the wider issues and approach. The west should lavishly fund population control programmes and cross-national anti corruption projects.

We also need lavishly to fund refugee camps that look after desperate people as close to home as possible but discourage them from travelling any further. And the aid will have to go hand in hand with assistance for the military in protecting such camps and repelling the vast numbers of migrants at our borders, and helping them return to camps.

We are already paying two per cent of our GDP in defence and this should not be cut in such dangerous times.

Something will have to give, so I believe that at home we will need reforms such as modest charges to visit a GP and further welfare reform.

We will continue to have a first-rate NHS and welfare state but young, fit people will get only basic assistance until they find work, and will have to spend perhaps two days a week in voluntary work.

This will help the government to maintain a large military and foreign budget.

If you are not persuaded of the moral case for such action, then one day – when you see what’s coming – you might be persuaded of the pragmatic one.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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