On the way of the “Global Britain, Global Challenges”, the Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that Britain will maintain its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development. At the
same time however, she argues that we need to look again to ensure that this
money is being spent in the most effective way.
The commitment to the 0.7% target is controversial. Nearly three times as many think we should decrease the aid budget as increase it. Many people are concerned that foreign aid achieves little, fuels corruption and represents a poor use of resources at a time of austerity in domestic spending.
In this paper, we look at the big questions about international development: what are the most important global challenges, and what role can aid play in tackling them? Are the public right to worry about aid effectiveness? Most importantly, how can we do better?
Global Britain and Global Aid
Many commentators associated Brexit with a worldwide increase in insular nationalism, and some have argued that the same trends are likely to lead to government succumbing to pressure to cut the aid budget. While many commentators have been quick to interpret Brexit as part of a widespread backlash against globalisation, the real factors were far more nuanced than this. The UK does not have the same tradition of trade scepticism as a France or America. An important part of the pro‐Brexit coalition was the so‐called ‘liberal Leavers’, often long‐standing supporters of freer trade and increased global links. A recent survey showed that twice as many (46%) Britons agreed that “globalisation was a force for good in the world” as thought it was a force for bad (19%).
Even if Britain wanted to turn its back on the world, it would rapidly find itself drawn back in. As the world’s economies, technologies and cultures become increasingly intertwined, what happens over there soon matters here. Many of the most important market failures of the twenty‐first century, from growing
antibacterial resistance to unpriced carbon emissions, are inherently global. There are clear synergies between Britain’s hard and soft power, as well as between the national and wider global interest in accelerating innovation and encouraging free trade.
In 2016, the UK was the third largest donor of aid worldwide after the US and Germany, giving just over £13 billion. Over the last six years, British aid has helped finance, among other things, many millions of school places, vaccinations, and bed nets. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has a good reputation internationally not just for the amount spent, but for trialling new methods of improving effectiveness.
The British public, however, are more sceptical about the effectiveness of aid. According to the most recent UK Aid Attitudes Tracker, 48% now believe aid should be cut, compared to just 18% who believe it should be increased and 28% who believe it should stay the same. Most evidence suggests, however,
that this is not because they believe that ‘charity begins at home’, but instead that they worry that aid makes little difference. The vast majority (87%) are unaware of the radical recent fall in global poverty, while another survey found that 57% believed “corruption in poor countries makes it pointless to donate