Sunday, June 20

The big question about British foreign aid is always overlooked: what is it supporting? | Aisha dodwell


TOAttempts by the conservative rebels to push for a vote on the aid budget were thwarted by President Lindsay Hoyle after she ruled that her proposed amendment to the research and invention bill was outside the scope of the legislation.

This means that the debate over what percentage of national income should be spent on foreign aid will continue. But for too long disproportionate attention has been paid to the narrow question of how much it is spent, at the expense of discussing what the aid is spent on and, more importantly, why we spend it. While it is important to defend the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid, we must not lose sight of the broader issues at stake in relation to the aid budget.

When spent well, aid can transform lives and, in humanitarian crises, literally save lives. Spending aid to strengthen the provision of education and public health, or funding grassroots women’s rights groups to advocate for gender equality, are examples of how aid can be spent in a meaningful way.

But the full potential of aid spending has not always been harnessed: despite being legally obligated to spend aid to tackle poverty abroad, successive governments have often pursued projects based on an ideological belief in the free market. and the trickle economy. Aid-funded projects, such as the controversial prosperity fund, which aims to open markets in middle-income countries, have struggled to show how they reduce poverty. Campaign One found that the government wastes millions each year on similarly ineffective programs with questionable impacts on poverty reduction. Meanwhile, aid-backed projects, such as the opaque Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, have been used to bolster Britain’s security interests by supporting security services abroad, including some with troubling records in human rights matter.

What is missing from recent aid debates are open and honest conversations about the deeply rooted causes that are embedded in the unjust structures of the global economic order that trap billions in poverty. We still have a global economy that continues to manipulate in favor of wealthy nations and corporations.

As the UK increasingly recognizes its own past thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, now is the time to reassess Britain’s long and complex relationship with aid countries. Most of the world’s poorest countries are former colonies whose people and resources were exploited by imperial powers like Britain, whose legacy remains deeply etched into the (uneven) way the world works today.

This is a point clearly articulated by Pope Francis, who has called for an overhaul of the wicked global economic system, which is based on an unfounded belief in free market “magic theories” and a “crude and naive trust in goodness.” of those who exercise power. “This system, he argues, is what” keeps the poor out of it. “

We see this in the way that current global trade rules, overseen by the World Trade Organization, often work against poorer nations. Consider Britain’s refusal to give up Covid vaccine patents: Despite providing aid to help distribute vaccines in the global south, the government is abiding by trade rules that prevent countries from developing their own vaccines affordably . The benefit of British aid for vaccines is undermined by broader government policy, all in order to protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies.

Then there’s the issue of corporate tax avoidance, which depletes low-income countries of vital resources. Despite last week’s G7 announcement of a new minimum corporate tax rate, the Tax Justice Network shows that this move primarily benefits the G7 nations themselves. Although the measure recognizes the need to improve corporate taxes, it falls short of the urgent reform of the global tax system and fails to limit the harmful use of tax havens, which are estimated to cost low-income countries. $ 200 billion every year. To put that in perspective, the combined amount of aid provided by all rich nations in 2019 was $ 153 billion.

Meanwhile, the mounting debt crisis in many countries in the global south is crippling their economies as they struggle to repay high-interest loans, a situation that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Even before the Covid coup, countries like Zambia were spending more on debt payments than on healthcare. The amount that low-income countries owe in debt payments often overshadows the amount received in foreign aid. Sudan, for example, owes Britain nearly 900 million pounds, 80% of which was earned through interest, while the country receive £ 44m in British aid this year, which begs the question of who is really helping whom here.

Poverty is political, it is the result of human decisions, and aid can only play a small but important role in addressing it. Viewed from this point of view, recent arguments in defense of the aid budget stand out for their limitations. The current rebellion against government cuts has been dominated by two stories. On the one hand, aid is defended as a lifesaving act of charitable benevolence, and maintaining the 0.7% spending target is seen as a mark of Britain’s moral character. On the other hand, aid is presented as a soft power tool that will enhance Britain’s national and security interests, strengthen our international position in the world and counter the influence of so-called “hostile states”. As Conservative MP Tobias Elwood recently said: “Britain needs to use its power and influence wisely. We can make great strides with our soft power, a key part of which is … aid. “

But if aid is to meaningfully address poverty, then we must rethink its purpose. It can’t be about charity alone, and it shouldn’t be about self-interest. Instead, it should seek to address the root causes of poverty, redistribute the world’s resources, and strengthen the organizations and individuals across the global south who are on the front lines of the fight against poverty and injustice. The aid, crucially, must be part of a broader commitment to dismantle the power structures that maintain poverty and global inequality.

Behind our approach to aid must be an awareness of the colonial roots of today’s world order, a point often made by citizens of the global south, but rarely heard here. In a letter to Boris Johnson Last year, the Bishop of Zambia, the Rev. George Cosmas Zumaire Lungu, reminded Boris Johnson that Britain became rich by extracting resources from countries like his. Noting the historic and unequal relationship between the two nations, he urged Johnson not to cut the aid budget.

Mr. Lungu was right. The aid is not a favor or a charitable donation, but a part of the duty that Great Britain owes to the world.

Aisha Dodwell is a campaign manager for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and a former political adviser to the shadow secretary of state for international development.


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