Should the UK provide humanitarian and development assistance to other countries?
Speaking at the Wellcome Collection last week in London, Development secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “Britain stands for free trade and cooperation, the rule of law, justice and human rights. We believe in bravery, in service and in sacrifice. We believe in the potential of the people”. The response to her defence of government aid spending with a focus on development, diplomacy and security, has been met with a mixed reception. Some congratulating her on the government’s commitment to maintaining spending on international development, others concerned about whether we should be supporting international aid at all when we have a range of our domestic problems in the UK.
At All We Can we know that financial and technical support from governments, non-government organisations and churches has done a lot of good; saving lives; rebuilding livelihoods; providing good health; promoting sanitation and encouraging education to name just a few benefits
The opponents of offering foreign assistance also have a strong argument because aid can; increase dependency; promote a form of paternalism and control; encourage corruption; overlook small communities and be offered for beneficial reciprocity such as trade agreements or military presence.
The United Nations’ believes that foreign aid is important and set a target is for each country to spend 0.7 per cent of its gross national income on foreign aid. The United Kingdom had met this target for the previous four years. The UK has been a world leader in committing to spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance. By meeting this global promise agreed in the United Nations every year since 2013, the UK has helped alleviate global poverty and has supported some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
For every hundred pounds that are made in the UK, seventy pence goes towards foreign aid. Currently, that is about £14 billion per year. The 0.7% target has had a long history of opposition, most recently from people who argue that the money would be better spent on domestic priorities, like social care or defence spending. £14b is roughly one-tenth of government spending on health in England.
The Department for International Development (DfID) is responsible for most of the UK’s aid spending. They spend 74% of the target; the rest is spent by other government departments and organisations. It goes towards a specific list of low and middle-income countries (Africa – 51% and Asia – 42%) than anywhere else. About 15% goes as humanitarian aid, or crisis relief, with the rest focused on strategic or long-term goals. 36% of the money goes via multilateral organisations, like the United Nations. The other 64% goes to programmes in specific countries as bilateral aid.
These are the numbers. But what of the moral responsibility?
The notion of meeting need regardless of where it occurs is one of the fundamental principles of humanitarianism. If the need is within its own borders, nations have a responsibility to respond to that; if beyond national borders, they have a similar obligation. Rich countries seem to be growing ever richer, and the poor are falling further behind. I also believe that both governments and individuals in rich countries spend billions on essentially discretionary spending, including on luxuries, pure and simple. Given this, we have no excuse for not alleviating the often dire suffering of families caught in circumstances beyond their control.
All We Can is a Christian faith-based international NGO and realises that the topics of development and humanitarian aid are certainly complex. The need is overwhelming—people are broken, hungry, misplaced, and in great distress. The government only has one part to play. It is not their total responsibility. The government is an institution full of imperfect people in power, trying to protect, serve, and govern for the majority—it will never live up to our expectations.
The mandate to look after the orphan, the widow and the stranger was given first to the Church and believers. Compassion has and always will work with the local church in the most impoverished communities to bring hope to individuals and families. This is because the Church is a reflection and manifestation of God’s heart for people and the poor, not a policy, a budget or a government.
As an organisation motivated by Christian values, we care about the poor because God commands it. We care about the poor because Jesus cares about the poor and because we were commissioned by him to love others as we would love ourselves.
If you are uncomfortable about this debate being political. Or even focussing on the economic. Or philosophical. And you don’t like the religious. Maybe we need to keep it simple. As in this statement made by Nelson Mandela, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”