There have been recent murmurings of unrest and disapproving sentiment towards our current aid budget. Those who see the education budget slashed, from all sides of the political spectrum, argue that the international development budget should be cut. It has actually been cut, in nominal terms, but the argument nevertheless remains to cut it in percentage terms.
We currently spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income on international development. So, for that elusive ‘British Taxpayer’, 0.35% of your income is the most that can go to international development. I personally do not think this is enough, but to suggest that it is too much is ridiculous, especially considering that those paying the 0.35% are those paying the 50p tax rate- those with the deepest pockets in society.
We are constantly compared to other developed countries who either fail to meet the 0.7% target or only give the 0.7% if it benefits their economies. Why would we want to replicate this behaviour? Should we not be proud of the altruistic strain that has characterised our society?
This increasing reluctance of some government officials – and it seems of many experts as well as voters – to give suggests a parallel desensitisation to mass death. Every 5 seconds, a child under 5 years of age dies of curable diseases – 700 every hour – 16,000 each day – 6 million each year (WHO 2008). Yet, we turn on the news and turn over as if nothing’s wrong in the world. The iconic development pictures have commonly been malnourished African children. If these were white children, there’d be uproar. If the white middle classes in South Africa suddenly started starving, for whatever reason, there’d be a concerted effort to help. Even now, it seems we’ve developed an image where people automatically conflate poverty and disease with black Africans ignorant of the fact that the 3 poorest states in India have more people in poverty than the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa combined. We should care, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Humans are humans, pain is pain and we should do our best to alleviate any global suffering that we can.
Compared to other departments, cuts to the Department for International Development are arguably the most damaging- whether that be in comparison to the health or education department. This is about keeping people alive, not cutting waiting times or ensuring interactive whiteboards for teachers. That’s not to say these aren’t issues which we should be concerned with, but the development budget tackles the ultimate problems facing humanity today and in any event the idea that we may be neglecting the needs of our own population by aiding overseas development is ridiculous. Homelessness aside, our country’s problems are very relative. There is a qualitative difference between waiting times to see a GP increasing and the spread of malaria in Zimbabwe increasing.
You are only a Briton because you were born into fortuitous circumstances. Imagine you were a poor Malawian. Through no fault of your own, you’re poor to the extent you cannot afford food, the chance of at least one of your parents having HIV/AIDs is more than one in four, and you have no hope of ever being educated. If you were that child, and someone told you that somewhere there existed someone who had a roof over their head, whose wardrobe exceeds in value what your parents earn in a year and yet refused to have 0.7% of their taxed earnings spent trying to help you, how would you feel?
In fact, imagine a scenario in which Boris Johnson becomes the British Prime Minister. After a series of suspiciously motivated wars in Sweden, Brazil and Italy, we are bankrupt and are unable to feed our children. Wouldn’t we want the more affluent states to help out? Regardless of whether we think they would help, would we not want them to help- would it not be the right thing to do?
Then there’s the argument that it’s the recipient nation’s government’s responsibility, not ours. Abandoning my position that we have a duty to these people, there is still no convincing argument to say that we shouldn’t donate. Just because India’s government SHOULD be eliminating poverty, does it mean we should not donate? It is those suffering that we are condemning if we do not . Of course it would be better if the Indian government used their resources more effectively in tackling the widespread poverty they have. But to say to the dying girl from Kerala ‘they’re not saving you, so why should we?’ is not only a ridiculous, but callous argument.
As a student, it is relatively easy to make these big statements about what tax money should be spent on. But even when we do graduate and (hopefully) start paying significant tax, let’s not let our greed corrupt our ideals. Let’s remember that our opportunities and the comfort they may bring us have simply not been there for millions of our fellow human beings through no fault of their own – and to remember to pass on a share, however small, of the fruit of those opportunities to others who are no less deserving.