This foreign aid law is an expensive stunt

Published by The Daily Telegraph (11th March, 2015)

So there we are. Our esteemed politicians have passed perhaps the stupidest piece of legislation since the dangerous dogs act of 1991. They have this week enshrined their own delusions in law by determining that regardless of events at home or abroad, 0.7 per cent of Britain’s gross domestic income will be given away to dodgy aid projects in a diminishing number of developing nations. And then they wonder why voters despair over Westminster.

It is easy to be generous with other people’s money. Why should politicians care that most Britons think too much tax revenue goes on aid when they can pose as noble saviours of the world? A recent poll by the respected Chatham House think tank found that only 11 per cent of voters want this spending to keep rising, while more than half want it to decrease – including almost two thirds of Conservatives. But parliamentarians are patting themselves on their backs for spraying our cash around the planet, trotting out the usual fraudulent clichés about how their supposed fight on global poverty also benefits Britain.

The truth is that spending on disabled people at home is being slashed to support highly dubious schemes abroad so that politicians can cloak themselves in compassion. They have committed Britain to an outdated target promoted by Church campaigners half a century ago. In doing so, they have ignored a unanimous report from the Lords’ economic affairs committee that pointed out an obvious fact: government spending should be judged on effectiveness rather than chucked at an arbitrary and inappropriate target.

Already Whitehall officials are struggling to spend this tidal wave of taxpayers’ cash, which has soared from about £8.5 billion when the Coalition took office to some £12 billion today. Such is the myopia on this issue that even Conservative politicians claim this is ‘a very small amount’, yet as they preach against welfare dependency at home they promote it abroad.

A growing body of evidence shows how aid is fostering conflict, fuelling corruption, shoring up bloodstained regimes and undermining democracy. No wonder it is a seen as another arrogant Western intervention in many recipient nations, one that paints a phoney image of Africa in particular as a horrific place in need of our salvation.

But such is the great aid conspiracy. Spendthrift politicians are egged on by a self-aggrandising aid lobby, which feasts on the profits of poverty despite the consistent failure of its projects. Just listen to all those state-supported charities applauding Britain’s “historic decision”. No mention of the millions that pour into their own pockets, an income stream growing by the year and now almost guaranteed. No wonder cheerleading Save The Children can afford to pay six-figure salaries to 20 people at its international office in Londonincluding £234,000-a-year to its chief executive.

Capitalism and consumerism are pulling millions out of poverty, not all these pontificating Western charities. Yet do not expect searching questions to this sector from the state broadcaster, since the BBC treats the bloated aid industry as latter-day saints, despite the often-unaccountable power these organisations hold in poor nations. Even worse, the corporation endorses a fiercely contested world view by handing over huge chunks of its schedule to the self-adoring Comic Relief, which hammers home the idea that aid is an unquestionable public good and those opposed to it are heartless prigs.

This law is simply an expensive stunt. Unfortunately, it will cost both British taxpayers and, in different ways, those it is meant to help in the developing world. ‘The British government has, for decades now, been pumping resources into international development, with little tangible effect,’ said Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP, a few years ago. She was right – although she changed her tune when she was appointed a minister in the department of international development that doles out the cash.

Far from being a source of national pride, as claimed by its promoters, the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill is an indicator of parliamentary absurdity. All those preening politicians proclaiming their benevolence to the poor may be backed by a sector that benefits from their largesse and a state broadcaster in breach of its political neutrality. This measure just blows billions, shackles future governments and highlights a hopelessly outdated world view. It is also one more reason for the chasm between Parliament and an electorate it treats with contempt.

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