British Foreign Aid, Put Simply

UK Aid Shelter Kits and Water Containers are loaded for shipment

By campaign agent Oliver Ratcliffe

In an increasingly globalised world, foreign aid is more important than ever. As global responsibility grows, other countries’ problems are no longer just their own. However, foreign aid is often a topic of controversy – many believe that countries should have isolationist policies, and spend state money on domestic affairs only. In fact, foreign aid was a topic that was voiced during 2017 UK General Election on numerous occasions. But, how much foreign aid does the UK give? And should we spend that money on domestic issues instead? This article aims to explain the UK’s foreign aid contributions, and put it in the context of both Brexit, and the contributions of other nations.

What are the stats?

Britain currently spends 0.7% of its national income on foreign aid. As of 2015, meeting that 0.7% target has become a legal requirement for the British Government. British spending on foreign aid equates to one tenth of the budget for the NHS. The US gives the highest amount of foreign aid in the world, however, if you calculate foreign aid spending as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) the story is very different. Sweden tops the list, followed by Norway, and Luxembourg, with Britain ranking at a respectable 6th place.

37% of this fund is spent on multi-lateral aid; aid that goes to international organisations such as the United Nations. The remaining 63% goes on bilateral aid, where aid is sent to specific countries. Pakistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Nigeria receive the most amount of aid. Most of that bilateral aid is spent on the humanitarian sector (crisis relief), with other portions going to areas such as health, civil society, and economic infrastructure.

What difference does it make?

It’s perhaps easy to see why the countries listed above have had the most foreign aid sent to them. The money allows, amongst other things, the International Rescue Committee to educate 11,000 Syrian children, thirteen million food rations, and more than three million relief packages for Syrian civilians. It also goes towards mass immunisation programs in countries affected by malaria and supporting refugees settle into their new lives. The budget also goes towards victims of environmental disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes. This money translates into funding rescue missions, shelter, and food packages for those civilians whose homes have been destroyed by natural disasters.

Foreign aid in a post-Brexit world

Considering foreign aid in the context of Brexit is vitally important. EU member states are expected to contribute money to the EU foreign aid budget, which is directed towards humanitarian crises across the world. In fact, £1bn of the UK’s contributions to the EU went to the foreign aid budget.

Boris Johnson recently claimed in article in the Evening Standard that foreign aid is ‘crucial to the UK being seen as a global force’. He claims that despite the UK leaving the EU, Britain must retain an international outlook and cement our place as a globally-minded nation. However, many politicians (usually from UKIP or Tory backbenchers) criticise the actual impact that foreign aid has on the ground, claiming that it is difficult to assess the positive impact the money has. For them, Brexit is an opportunity to stop being beholden by EU regulations on foreign aid and spend that money on British matters.

Foreign aid spending is far from perfect, however, it is undoubtedly beneficial to helping developing countries. With the growth of international organisations, but the simultaneous growth of hostility towards those very same international organisations, foreign aid will continue to be at the heart of the debate of where Britain stands on the international stage.

Sources and further reading:

Image @DFID, Flickr

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