By Allan Davies
Much criticism has been made over recent months, especially from the Tory ranks, of the validity of the Department for International Development. This is despite Cameron’s intentions to ring fence the DfID budget. They argue that DfID is massively over-funded and is a department that has avoided having its budget reduced in this time of economic trouble.
Iain Dale posts that the department smacks of cronyism and funds groups of dubious merit. One stark example that he highlights is that of the famously insidious group, the National Union of Teachers, who received a whopping total of £300,000 in order for them to become global agents of change. The idea of training teachers to promote international development issues within the classroom seems to be a worthwhile venture so why this laudable action should be the target of such wrath is known only to the minds of the Tory party.
Criticism has also been levelled at the government for continuing to give aid to China and India at a time when these two nations are making significant technological advances. Yet India has the greatest number of poor people in its population than any other country in the world. There are 100 million people living in poverty in India, more than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. In western China, away from the relatively better-off coastal areas, poverty is also rife in the extreme. Douglas Alexander describes the progress DfID is making in these regions as “morally right and economically wise”. Not only is the UK helping to alleviate poverty but is also forging valuable long-term partnerships with countries that will be world leaders in generations to come.
And what of the Tory proposals to ‘reform’ aid? Their One World Conservatism green paper states that they want to move towards a results-based aid, where governments receive aid only when development results have been achieved. Quite rightly this has been heavily criticised by NGOs. Compassion was never a word strongly associated with the Conservatives despite their attempts at the tagline and by proposing to restrict aid to those nations most in need, it’s not hard to understand why. In fact, less than 1% of Tories voting on the ConservativeHome website earlier this year saw international aid as a priority.
For me, this is a typical example of the Conservatives showing their true colours. Prominent members of the party are calling for the DfID budget to be stripped of £1bn. However, there is an international agreement for governments to spend at least 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) before 2020. When the Labour party took office from the Tories in 1997, aid was only 0.26% of GNI. Now the government expects to reach more than 0.6% of GNI by 2010 exceeding the European commitment of reaching 0.56%. Whereas several other European countries have recently cut their aid budgets, the UK remains committed to its targets.
So tell me now, why on earth would they want to shut down DfID!? It is clear that behind the scenes, the Conservative’s eventual aim for the department is its demise yet the UK is renowned the world over as the global leader in aid effectiveness and the department has bettered many people’s lives the world over.
If the Conservatives decide to phase it out or shut it down, they will damage the global reputation of Britain irreversibly.