Labour Will Stand Solidly Behind a 0.7% Aid Budget

12 Jun 2016
The Mail on Sunday‘s campaign on Britain’s commitment to use of 0.7% of its gross national income on the world’s poor has generated enough clicks on its e-petition to trigger a parliamentary debate.

The debate has been brought by Tory MP Steve Double, the marionette of MoS, whose campaign against aid has produced spurious headlines claiming that UK aid is used to fund “terrorists, palaces and despots”; “the world’s most corrupt nations”; and perhaps worst of all, “BEEKEEPERS”.

But the MoS‘s gross sensationalism betrays its perfectly reasonable objections to government misuse of the aid budget.

I listened with interest to the testimony of Ian Birrell of the MoS on June 6 to the International Development Committee on the government’s use of private contractors.

Let it be known that I share his concern the Tories are allowing “excessive profiteering on the backs of British tax payers on the one hand, and on the backs of the poor on the other”, by subsidising a development ‘industry’ of private contractors and the executive salaries of International NGOs.

I also share his concern that DfID’s use of the Big Four accountants is contrary to sustainable development. PwC for example, are involved in industrial-scale marketing of tax-avoidance schemes for corporations in the Global South.I also have other concerns about how the Tories are increasingly spending aid to subsidise the fossil fuel industry and on deportation deals with dozens of countries.

However this reactionary call to scrap aid reminds me of the dubious arguments now being mobilised by the Brexit camp: point out the flaws, reject reform and promise untold wealth if only we just throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In spite of the worrying slide towards the privatisation of aid under this government, British aid remains a net force for good in the world.

British aid has helped to strengthening health and education systems across the Global South and has contributed to cutting extreme poverty between 1990 and 2011 by 60%. Through Britain’s contributions to the multilateral Global and Fund and Ross Fund, we have been instrumental in the battle against the huge killers of malaria, HIV/Aids and TB.

The UK spends less aid as a proportion of gross national income than Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and Holland, but is the first country to commit itself to the fixed 0.7% provision. To put it in context it is less than we as a nation spend on takeaways each year.

Aid is simply public money. It can be spent resourcefully or wastefully. It is no surprise that Tories have outsourced aid to corporations, because this government is ideologically wedded to private greed over public service. They have overseen the privatisation of British aid and the reversal of Labour’s 2001 policy of untying aid from Britain’s commercial interests.

When aid is spent efficiently - and by this I mean locally, not on subsidising huge British contractors - it builds capacity in local institutions, reducing both poverty and inequality. When Labour formed DfID we did so with the aim of ending aid dependency. The Tory’s have been complicit in the creation of a lucrative industry that literally depends on millions remaining in poverty.

Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, affords a high standard of living to many of its citizens through historical and ongoing exploitation of labour and resources in the Global South. 

We maintain unfair tax and trade treaties with the poorest nations on Earth and through our offshore tax havens, we operate the largest financial secrecy network in the world, in which public wealth from the Global South is hidden by some corrupt elites.

The Mail on Sunday itself gets off its UK tax bill in a similar way. Harold Jonathan Esmond Vere Harmsworth 4th Viscount Rothermere owns the paper through an offshore company based in the UK tax haven of Bermuda.

If this government were to use its power to ban such unjust practices and address inequality at its core, it would boost developing nations’ public finances, which could be spent by their governments on their own sustainable development. But until that day, the Labour Party stands solidly behind maintaining 0.7%.

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