Is the UK right to cut Overseas aid to 0.5% of GNI?

The United Kingdom has been a world leader in providing Official Development Aid in recent years. In 2019 the UK was the third largest donor in absolute terms and the 5th largest relative to it’s Gross National Income.

However, that is now set to change as in November 2020 the UK government announced that it would cut UK aid from 0.7% of its GNI to just 0.5% – meaning that it will reduce from around £15 billion per annum to nearer £12 billion.

Arguments for reducing Overseas Development Aid

The main reason for the cut is that we are facing an economic downturn due to Coronavirus, and the Chancellor has said that it’s hard to justify spending money overseas when we are stretched to pay for health, education and benefits at home.

At first glance this relatively small cut to aid expenditure seems justified when the government is looking at a lower income next year due to a decrease in tax returns – because people have been spending and earning less, and because they have had to pay out more to support ‘furloughed’ workers, all of which has been borrowed, and thus increasing the national debt, which will have to be paid off with interest in coming years.

However, there are several arguements against cutting overseas development aid:

Arguments against cutting overseas aid

  • millions of children will go without vaccinations next year, and around 100 000 will die (presumably in 2020) from preventable disease as a result.
  • 2 million people will lose humanitarian support
  • almost 4 million will lost access to clean water.
  • (Source for the above)
  • and without this assistance more children will die.
  • Fewer children will go to school, one million fewer as a result of the 30% cut.
  • Ironically it may hurt economic growth – aid gives us influence in emerging markets which can benefit British businesses (especially as aid is now more targeted towards supporting UK interests).
  • It harms our national reputation as wanting to play a role in global governance, especially post Brexit.
  • It breaks a commitment we made to UN and breaks UK Law – the 0.7% was enshrined in law in 2015.

Find out more…

For more information on this topic, please see the links on my ‘Globalisation and Global Development‘ page.

The End of the Department for International Development!

In September 2020 the long standing Department for International Development (DFID) merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

You can read more about the merger here.

DFID was established as a separate department in 1997 under the New Labour Government, and its aim was to focus exclusively on delivering overseas aid, and over the last 23 years its budget has been increased steadily to around $15 billion a year, meaning that the UK was one of few developed countries to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% GDP on aid, part of the old Millennium Development Goals.

The new conservative administration had been making noises about merging DFID with the FCO for some time, and it finally made the announcement in June 2020, and by September, DFID was no more. (Many DFID employees accused the government of doing this by stealth, using Covid-19 to disguise the move.)

This will probably refocus aid spending on defence and trade rather than poverty reduction

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists as its primary responsibilities:

‘pursuing national interests, promoting Britain as a force for good in the world, British security, as well as (since the merger) reducing poverty and meeting global challenges’. 

According to The Conversation this means the UK government has now changed its focus on how it spends aid. 

It will now be prioritising promoting Britain’s national interests – trade and security, rather than on global poverty reduction.  This was a trend that had already started to happen before the merger and shows how national political priorities can shape in very direct ways the way international aid money is spent.

Historically, DFID has tended to portion out aid money to projects that are already running, rather than setting up its own new projects, with Health care and Disaster relief being two of the larger expenditure areas, and countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nigeria receiving the most aid.

However, now we will likely see more being spent in the areas of governance, security, and trade assistance, with security risk countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan maybe receiving more aid, as well as countries that have well established trade links with the UK and with potential to benefit UK companies abroad.

All of that is in line with using aid to promote national interests.

It’s too early to say whether or not aid money will now be spent more effectively under this new regime, but it’s certainly worth knowing about this change if you’re studying the global development option as part of A-level sociology!

The Capitol Hill Insurrection, Post-Truth, Fascism and the Impeachment of Trump

I just listened to an interesting article on Radio 4 with historian Timothy Snyder discussing the Impeachment of Donald Trump for inciting political insurrection.

Snyder had an interesting ‘grand historical perspective’ on why the Impeachment was necessary – the insurrection, led by overt White Supremacists was the moment that post-truth started to manifest as fascism.

The Impeachment was important because ‘institutions’ had to make a statement that a group of people with radical views can not just come together in violence and overthrow the democratic will of the people.

He also made an interesting point about the void that’s been created by the death of local news outlets – he described the USA as a ‘news desert’ – you’ve only got the mainstream news which more people increasingly distrust, as demonstrated by the reporting of the recent election results.

Trump was one of these people, believing the mainstream media was his enemy and that the election results were a fraud, a view widely dismissed in most of the media, but popular in various alternative media outlets.

So Trump went with the ‘election rigged’ view, pushed this narrative on Twitter, and this an other right wing social media circles amplified this view, largely in isolation from what was going on in the mainstream.

Hence the Capitol Hill riots were based on a President spinning a narrative of ‘fake election’ not corroborated by mainstream news, but spread on social media, and the view kind of verified by ‘mob agreement’ rather than objective fact-checking.

That is pretty much was post-truth is – people united by narratives which have no easily verifiable basis. That’s not necessarily bad, but then when one such person who is spinning one of these post-truth narratives manages to make manifest a political insurrection, that’s the basis for Fascism right there.

Relevance to A-level sociology

It’s a tough one to understand this event, but certainly there are links to:

  • Theory and Methods – this is a very uncertain, polarised, post-truth event – truly the downside of the postmodern – a real event based on a fictional narrative of a stolen election!
  • Crime and Deviance and the Media – complex causes of crime -both are bound up.
  • The rising power of social media – both as a cause, and the consequent banning of Donald Trump.
  • Also Global Development – NOT a peaceful election, further supporting the view that America is a less developed country!

Sources/ find our more

Timothy Snyder – On Tryanny

The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Development

According to the United Nations there are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples in the world in 2020, spread across 90 countries and they make up over half of the world’s 5000 distinct cultures.

For A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option, it is very useful to know something about Indigenous Peoples as they represent interesting case studies that make it difficult to make generalisations about globalisation or development.

The United Nations seeks to work with indigenous peoples and to help the protect their lands and cultures, and to increase awareness of indigenous ways of life through initiatives such as the International Indigenous People’s Day is a United Nations led initiative held on the 9th August of every year.

Indigenous Peoples – A Definition

Given the variety of indigenous peoples around the world, The United Nations has not adopted an official definition of the term ‘indigenous’.

Instead it uses the following principles to identify indigenous peoples:

  • Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.
  • Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
  • Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
  • Distinct social, economic or political systems
  • Distinct language, culture and beliefs
  • Form non-dominant groups of society
  • Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.

Whether we apply the term ‘indigenous’ to a group of people also depends on self-identification – the group has to self-identify as indigenous rather than being defined as indigenous (as outlined in various United Nations human rights documents).

(Source: United Nations Fact Sheet: Who are Indigenous Peoples).

Who are the Indigenous Peoples of the World?

This video on Facebook provides an easy, accessible, one minute overview of some key statistics on Indigenous peoples today.

  • There are 350 million indigenous people in the world today
  • They make up 5% of the world’s population
  • They inhabit 25% of the earth’s land surface
  • And their land stores 60% of the world’s carbon
  • They are a diverse group and speak 4000 languages

A useful starting point to find out more about the world’s Indigenous Peoples is the United Nations ‘International Indigenous People’s Day‘. This has an extensive resource collection with many links and even reports on the ‘state of indigenous peoples’.

Probably one of the best known examples of a self-identified indigenous group are The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania.

Indigenous Peoples and Development

Western models of development – the processes of colonialism, capitalism, urbanisation and industrialisation have done much to undermine or even eradicate whole indigenous cultures.

Many indigenous communities are still under threat from the pressures of increased consumption which goes along with ‘western modes of development’ – which results in encroachment on indigenous lands – grazing lands all over Africa have been taken over for farming, for example, and large parts of the rainforest are under threat in the Amazon.

However, many indigenous communities continue to survive to this day and many have adapted to globalisation and ‘development’ pressures from outside.

The United Nations works to help preserve indigenous rights, especially land rights, agains the encroachments of nation states.

It it is actually very difficult to make generalisations about what the role of the indigenous communities in development is, because there are simply so many indigenous peoples!

Certainly in terms of globalisation, you will find several good examples of transformationalism in the different ways indigenous communities have adapted to global flows.

In terms of theories of development – the persistence of indigenous cultures criticises Modernisation Theory ( so many don’t want to Westernise) and there seems to be a good deal of support in here for People Centred Development – as indigenous communities work with the United Nations to preserve their cultural distinctiveness and find their own paths to development, selectively choosing what aspects of global culture they want to work with and which they would rather keep ‘at a distance’.

More to come….

I’ll write more specific posts on specific indigenous cultures and development in coming months, as it’s hard to make generalisations here!

‘GCSEs and A-Levels scrapped’ – but I wouldn’t relax just yet!

So on Wednesday the government announced that exams in England and Wales are to be scrapped in favour of ‘assessed grades’.

But does this may not necessarily mean you’ll be able to chillax for the next 6 months!

Given that this government has a track record of being reactive rather than pro-active in responding to Covid-19 – lurching from one inadequate response to another and U-turning dramatically where education is concerned, I wouldn’t bet on GCSE and A-level grades just being put entirely in the hands of teachers just yet.

Sure, that’s the message, but I’d be amazed if this scenario doesn’t develop further over the next few weeks with the education department putting in place some kind of centralised dictate that all schools and colleges must subject their students to some kind of controlled assessment which are basically just like the regular GCSEs and A-levels.

And the nature of the assessment will be set centrally, by the exam boards, who otherwise will just be laying around idle for another year (no exams means nothing to do) – I mean presumably if the government are paying these boards’ wages surely they’re going to get them to bodge something together in the next few weeks.

There will probably be some degree of flexibility over when students can sit said assessments, and probably some kind of sampling and standardisation procedure put in place, but I can’t imagine that the department for education is just going to ‘let schools get on with it’.

I mean, they haven’t done that with lockdown in general, why on earth are they going to give schools an easier-ride now and ‘trust teachers’, they only did that last year under an extreme public backlash, so it’s highly unlikely they’re just going to allow teachers the freedom to just ‘carry on and teach and assess’ as they see fit all the way through to June!

The Equator Prize – A good Source for Examples ‘People Centred’ Development Projects

The United Nations Development Programme has run the ‘Equator prize‘ initiative every year since 2009.

The idea is to recognise indigenous communities from around the globe who are adopting innovative, nature-based solutions to achieve sustainable development and combat poverty and climate change.

The 2020 award ceremony showcased 10 such diverse initiatives from around the globe, as shown on the map below.

To my mind this initiative seems to be an excellent example of ‘People Centred Development‘, as each of these development projects are small scale, led by the indigenous people themselves and sustainable. All the United Nations seems to be doing is connecting them and giving them more visibility and recognition on a global stage, but besides this, each one of these projects seems to be a genuine example of people centred development from the ground up.

Each of the initiatives seems to be linked to a famous advocate, some of whom you will be very familiar with. For example, one of the winners of 202o was a community run Maasai conservation project in Kenya, supported by Margaret Atwood (who wrote the Handmaid’s Tale).

It’s very difficult to generalise about what each of these projects are doing specifically, because they are diverse, and that’s sort of the point of People Centred Development – because it’s ‘people centred’ each of the paths to development looks different, so I will blog more about each of these projects in forthcoming posts.

However, for now I just wanted to highlight the United Nation’s Equator Prize as a good source for links to small projects that seem to be excellent examples of ‘People Centred Development’.

NB – don’t forget that PCD isn’t postmodern – it’s not ‘anything goes’ development, there is a kind of moral imperative that binds these projects together under the auspices of the United Nations – they are all sustainable, for example, and they are all ‘community run’ and presumably have a degree of democratic governance, all of which are aspects of PCD.

How Poor People Survive in America

Neoliberal policies in America over the last 30 years have led to massive economic inequalities.

Policies such of tax cuts for the rich and restrictions in welfare spending mean that now even working people on relatively high incomes cannot afford rent in some of the more expensive areas of America, such as California.

As a result, we have a situation where hundreds of thousands of in-work Americans are forced to live in their vehicles in parking lots, as the documentary below explores.

This documentary should be of interest to anyone studying the Global Development Option for A-level sociology.

Homelessness in California

The documentary starts with the case study of one woman who works as a carer and a cleaner and used to live in a very nice house with her husband in California.

The relationship broke down, and she preferred to leave the house and him behind, but her income of $1800 a year meant she simply couldn’t afford to rent anything in her local area, and so she chose to live in her car instead.

She parks in a free parking lot where a charity has provided water, toilets and an outdoor kitchen for use, and it’s most interesting to note that it’s not the State funding this, but charities.

We see a lot of other people in the same situation – working, but living in their vehicles.

Another guy, aged 53, used to work as a computer engineer, working 50 hours a week earning $7000 a month ($80K a year), but he had a burn out and then some heart problems and after 6 months of unemployment benefit and then nothing he burnt through all of his savings and eventually couldn’t afford to live in an apartment anymore.

He now sleeps in the driving seat of his car (which looks very uncomfortable) and does temporary work to try and get back on track.

Homelessness in Richmond, Virginia

Virginia has one of the highest homeless rates in America and this section of the video starts off with a clip of local police evicting a tenant who is behind with the rent at gun point. Entering with guns drawn is standard, the tenant is actually half way through packing and willing to go.

In Virginia, if you’re only five days behind with payment you can have a late payment order made agains you, and you then have a week to pay, and then be evicted and rendered homeless immediately.

We now get to see a guy who has been living in a motel room for 2 years at the cost of $1300 a month, sharing with his partner. He cannot rent because of his past late payment notices – the State keeps a public database of late payments which landlords can search and they tend not to rent out to people with a history of bad debt.

(It’s quite interesting to compare this to the case in the UK, where we seem to have the other extreme, as evidenced in the ‘Nightmare Tenant’s type programmes – where tenants seem to have too many legal rights to stay put while the landlord just soaks up their debt!)

Poverty in the Apalachians

The documentary now moves away from homelessness in cities and focus on poverty in rural America, heading to the Apalachians. It’s often said that the American Dream got lost somewhere along the way in Apalachia.

Apalachia is home to mainly white working class Americans, 80% of whom voted for Trump, and support seems to be unwavering despite the fact that life hasn’t got better for them under his administration.

We witness a family of five who are on benefits and receive around 1200 EU a month to live off (which I think includes food stamps) – this involves the parents eating only one meal a day at the end of the month. They rely on a free food for kids meal truck that hand out food to children in the area.

Lindon B Johnson created food stamps as part of his war on poverty, and to this day 40 million U.S. Citizens still receive them.

We also get to see a Veteran who is retired on 700 EU a month and receives about 650 EU in food stamps, to feed her, her niece and her three children.

Of course they’re all overweight.

Once a month a team of Doctors provides free medical check ups – many people here, like around 20 million Americans, have no medical insurance. The service is very popular! It’s not just Doctors, it’s also dentists.

The scene looks like something out of a war zone – a triage centre.

A more extensive welfare state would help these people

This video will challenge your stereotypes about homeless people – these are all people who are hardworking and want to get ahead but just had bad luck in life which set them on the path to homelessness.

The State in America offers very little assistance to such people – and the fates of these individuals seem to be a good argument for having a more extensive welfare state like we do in Britain which offers support such as free health care and housing benefit for longer periods.

A more socialist solution would simply be to have more state housing – designated not for profit housing in which people can stay, even have it subsidised at cost maybe?!?

Los Angeles – the Homeless Capital of the United States

In the last few years the number of homeless in Los Angeles have risen from 33 000 to 59 000

Here we get to see Elvis, a guy who has a plan to combat the problem of homelessness. He gave up his job (he lives off his partner) and helps those less fortunate.

He builds small wooden cabins which cost $1000 (paid for by donations) – they have window locks and a solar panel to power an alarm and a light – they basically allow people to get a secure night’s sleep.

One of the tiny houses being delivered in LA.

However, they are illegal as the mayor has forbidden him to put them on the sidewalks of the streets, but Elvis carries on regardless.

We get to see a scene where Elvis delivers a cabin to a couple sleeping on the streets, an upset resident calls the police and there is a ‘remove or destroy order’ put on the cabin. They do manage to find a spot for it on private land, but that’s the way it goes in Los Angeles!

The Being Homeless Role Play in Waco Texas

The video finishes with a project in Waco, Texas. Once a month, people come to act out what its like to be homeless for 24 hours – to give them a feel for the reality.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This documentary should be of interest to any student studying the Global Development option – it’s a good illustration of the level of inequality in the United States, one of the richest countries on earth, and shows that even very wealthy countries have pockets of grim poverty and social problems such as homelessness.

Find out more….

The story of how the Los Angeles authorities have prevented Elvis from donating tiny homes is pretty depressing – an example of the State actually preventing a DIY solution to poverty.

You can find out more by reading this article in Tree Hugger, or just searching for ‘Elvis, LA, homeless, tiny house’.

Poverty in America

The 2019 video below features Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs in a discussion of why there is so much poverty in America and what can be done about it.

While the discussion was before the 2020 elections, it’s still worth a watch because it’s quite rare to see such big names on the A-level sociology global development syllabus discussing something so specific.

The video is very watchable – split into two sections focussing on two questions:

  1. Why is there so much poverty in America?
  2. What can we do to reduce poverty in America?

Why is there so much poverty in America?

Key points:

  • Approximately 38 million Americans, or 1 in 8 people live in poverty today.
  • Inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression in 1926.
  • America hasn’t always been so unequal – since the New Deal and up to the mid 1970s government policies worked effectively to reduce inequality in America
  • Inequality started to get worse under Reagan when he introduced neoliberal reforms. This initially meant tax cuts for the very rich.
  • More recently under Donald Trump there have been even more tax cuts for corporations and proposed cuts to benefits (for example restricting the number of people who are allowed food stamps). (NB I’m not sure whether these policies went through since Trump got voted out of power!)
  • The United States political system is now owned by Corporate interests who bankroll elections.
  • Tax havens are also mentioned as a problem – the often illegal means by which Corporations extract wealth from poorer countries.
  • We need to get rid of Trump and his pandering to ‘divide and rule’ racist attitudes in America.

What can we do about poverty in America?

  • Krugman and Sachs point to the fact that Capitalism isn’t the problem – Northern European countries can be socially just and capitalist.
  • What we need is ‘social democracy’ where the State regulates capitalism, rather (presumably) than neoliberalism).
  • They seem to think Denmark offers hope – it used to be very unequal in the 19th century and now is very equal.
  • We need to get rid of plutocracy in America – i.e. get rid of the amount of control Corporations have over the political system.
  • Young people are mentioned as the solution – they are more tolerant of diversity and less likely to vote for Trump.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a very useful video for any student studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.

It focuses on a specific issue relevant to the specification, that of inequality and development and you get to hear the views of two major economists on the issue.

TBH I was surprised at how similar their views are and how critical Sach’s was of Corporations and too little regulation, I had expected him to be a little less radical!

The world’s toughest prisons: Tucumbu in Paraguay

Tucumbu Prison in Paraguay, South America, houses some of the most dangerous convicted criminals in the country.

It is based in the middle of a slum, and is hideously underfunded and overcrowded – originally built to house just 800 inmates, it currently houses 4000.

The prison features in a recent Netflix documentary series: Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons in which Raphael Rowe spends two weeks inside the prison finding out what life is like for the inmates and guards.

This is an insightful documentary which should be of interest to students studying the Crime and Deviance Module as part of A-level sociology.

A prison of contrasts

There appears to be a very clear structure in the prison, with three main regions being explored in the documentary:

The first is a zone run by the catholic church which seams to be relatively safe and normal (by prison standards) – where prisoners can stay if they agree to abide by 50 rules laid down by the church. This is where Raphael stays, and like prisoners in this area he’s expected to work for 4 hours a day. Work seems to help prisoners as some of them are earning hundreds of dollars a month making products they sell, and they seem to be able to keep a good chunk of the money.

The second is the much rougher outside zone, in the open air, where it seems mainly drug addicts hang out – here one of the ways of making money is to scavenge through rubbish for old bits of food, and plastic bottles.

The plastic bottles can be sold as plates, which inmates used to get their daily food ration, which is the only thing they get for free from the prison authorities. Anything else has to be paid for.

The final reason is the ‘enterprise region’ – where prisoners run full on businesses, such as restaurants, there’s a tattoo parlour, barbers, and a laundry. in this section people can pay around $300 a month for a room – and a few do seem to be making that much money!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly most relevant to the ‘social control’ topic within Crime and Deviance – this prison offers an interesting contrast to the way things are done in UK prisons.

There are very few guards per prisoner, who mainly let the prisoners get on with their lives, and there seems to be very little in the way of surveillance or rehabilitation going on.

However prisoners are also allowed the freedom to set up businesses, earn money, and have a lot of freedom when relatives come in.

It seems to be a very liberal approach to punishment – individuals are left to rise or fall depending on their own individual efforts which the state doing nothing other than providing what seems to be just one meal a day.

You could also use this as a case study for qualitative research methods.