The UK can be proud of its generous foreign aid spend

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The size of the UK’s foreign aid budget has often come in for criticism.

Britain spends 0.7 per cent of its Gross National Income (GNI) on international development, an amount which David Cameron has ring fenced despite cuts in overall government expenditure.

Critics include Nigel Farage’s party Ukip, which won four million votes at the general election.

There are fears that the money often ends up in the hands of corrupt regimes, or is given to developing countries that can fend for themselves.

But there are powerful arguments for maintaining the 0.7 per cent commitment.

The moral case is easily made: Britain, for all its economic difficulties, remains a fabulously rich country in absolute and proportionate terms, compared to much of the world.

Some of the poorest nations on earth still experience health problems such as polio that are all the more appalling given how easily eradicable they are. There are many countries where malnutrition, leading to stunted growth, is widespread, an obscenity given how much food we have in Europe.

The pragmatic argument is also easily made, in light of the migrant crisis. If rich countries are prepared to help stabilise countries in various ways, from military peacekeeping support to economic advice to simple donations, it helps lessen the number of people who are likely to flee across continents.

Yesterday, the billionaire software tycoon Bill Gates congratulated Mr Cameron for sticking to the 0.7 per cent. Mr Gates has devoted much of his huge fortune to alleviating extreme poverty and disease in the poorest nations.

As he wisely observed: “Helping people to help themselves is the right thing to do – it’s also the smart thing to do.”

The UK can be proud that this year it became the first country to enshrine in law its 0.7 per cent spend, a target set out by the United Nations 45 years ago.