The UK Parliament voted on Tuesday to cut Overseas Aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% of GDP, a cut which The Guardian refers to as a ‘hammer blow’ for some of the world’s poorest peoples facing persecution in countries such as Yemen and Syria.
This is an important update for any student studying the Global Development Module as part of A-level sociology.
Previous to the cuts the UK had the second highest aid budge relative to its GDP compared to any other country besides Germany and was among one of very few large developed countries to have met this Millennium Development Goal target. (NB that’s not a typo, the 0.7 of GPD target was set as part of the MDGs 1.0 back in the year 2000, even though they ended in 2015 to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, still only a few countries met that pledge even in all those years).
Now we’re back in mid-league obscurity for aid donors by proportion of GDP.
The stated reason for the cuts to foreign aid are that the UK has spent over $400 billion on combatting Coronavirus and that next year our debt will exceed the total value of our economic output.
Boris Johnson says the cut from 0.7% to 0.5% is temporary and will return to 0.7% when economic circumstances allow
Arguments against cutting aid
It’s worth noting that every living prime minister besides Boris Johnson is against cutting aid
There’s been quite an active response outlining the impact of the cuts from various activists such as this tweet from Malala Yousafzai:
Spoke with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson this morning. I applaud his dedication to girls' education – but I am concerned he won't reach his goal of helping 40M girls go to school unless the U.K. recommits 0.7% of national income to aid and pledges £600M to @GPforEducation.
Some further arguments against cutting aid include…
UK is already spending LESS on UK aid anyway, it’s down from $14 to to $10 Billion this year compared to the previous year already, because our GNP has already shrunk due to the pandemic. Thus the link between the economy doing worse and aid spending being cut is ALREADY in place!
It’s a relatively small amount money that will do very little to help the UK get back on its feet, whereas the difference this money might make abroad is huge.
Related to point 2, this could well be false economy – that money could prevent further strain on the UK economy, OR help the UK economy, especially since UK aid is now organised through the FCO rather than DFID, and the former is more cynical in the way it spends UK aid money anyway – more likely to use it to benefit the UK economy.
Contrary to the news reporting about Philanthropists ‘stepping in’ to plug the UK aid cuts, this isn’t true – the aid cut is worth around $3 Billion the ‘pledge’ is currently at around $100 Million – 30 times less. This is a good example of media bias, the mainstream media REALLY should be more critical of these global elites!
This tool provides you with an overview of the countries in which we spend most aid, and the areas of development – so you can see that last year we spent the most aid in Ethiopia and health was the main area of expenditure…
You can then click through to individual countries, and from there to individual projects, for example this link will take you to an overview of ‘solar Nigeria‘ – a project with a 5 year budget of £66 million to provide solar energy to schools and hospitals.
How do we measure the effectiveness of Aid spending?
NB – knowing where our aid money is spent is not the same as evaluating the impact!
To evaluate the impact of any of the projects listed on this site you need click on further tabs to get the the ‘documents’ (here), where you can read about how the project is going.
This should give you an insight into how difficult it is to evaluate the success of aid expenditure: just to keep track of the expenditure year on year is an effort given that there are so many different actors involved with spending the aid money – the FCO (previously DFID) works with projects which are already up and running, which can mean working with different partners.
Then you have to evaluated the impact in the context of the problems faced in local conditions – there are all sorts of issues such as conflict and corruption which may mean aid money not being spent as you’d like!
And this is just one project – out of thousands that UK aid money is currently being used to finance!
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!
Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund was set up in 2016 and invested in private health care systems in developing countries. One of its stated aims is to buy up cheap land and build private hospitals with the intention of providing low-cost private health care for people in low-income countries.
It started in 2016 and managed to attract $1 billion worth of aid money from diverse sources, mainly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation but it has also received £75 million from the UK government’s aid budget.
The Fund established projects in private health care in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and India.
Ebola recently resurfaced in Democratic Republic of Congo, and has now infected more than 2500 people in the Eastern part of the country, near the border with Uganda.
Ebola is one of the world’s most infectious and deadliest diseases: as of 22nd July 2019 the World Health Organisation reported 2503 cases in this latest outbreak, with 1764 deaths. (Source: Relief Web).
The World Health Organisation first declared an Ebola outbreak in the DRC in August 2018, but the number of cases have increased dramatically since Spring of 2019. This is now the second largest Ebola outbreak after the 2014-16 epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which killed 11, 300.
Health workers have a new vaccine which appears to work to deploy to help keep the disease under control but they face the following barriers to treating people:
There is ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC. This extends to attacks on health care facilities – there have been around 200 such attacks reported which have killed 5 people.
Local people are being displaced as a result of the conflict – at least 300 000 so far, and some of these are heading across the border to Uganda, where there have been some reported cases of Ebola.
There is a local rumor that aid workers are actually infecting people with Ebola because they are ‘paid by the corpse’ – and in a country mired by corruption and conflict, I guess this sounds plausible.
It remains to be seen whether the Ebola outbreak can be kept under control: the ongoing conflict and local suspicions are certainly going to hamper efforts, and it seems aid agencies are going to have to spend a lot of time working with locals and building trust in order to keep things under control!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This recent tragedy should be of interest to any students studying the Global Development module in A-level sociology. The case of Ebola in the DRC illustrates the relationship between conflict and health problems and it also shows some of the local challenges Aid agencies face when trying to deliver emergency aid.
UK Development aid intended to maintain stability in Northern Syria has apparently ended up in the hands I Jihadists who abuse human rights.
This is according to a recent BBC Panorama documentary, which aired this Monday.
The problem seemed to be down to one private UK company who DFID channelled the money through.
The programme uses document evidence and interviews with aid workers based in Turkey who talk about bags of UK tax payers aid money being handed over to Syrian peacekeeping forces – who were actually working with local Jihadists to ‘maintain a balance of power’ in the region
The document evidence seemed to prove that the company knew this was going on…
So how strong an argument does this evidence make against aid?
Not a very strong one outside of this specific case IMO.
The advantages of NGO Aid over Official Development Aid
Generally smaller and thus more responsive to the needs of local communities than the kinds of large scale development projects undertaken in the days of Modernisation Theory.
There is no political agenda as is often the case with government aid, and thus aid is not ‘tied aid’ – it is freely given.
NGOs can provide a more continuous supply of aid compared to governments, which can be effected by elections
NGOs are more likely to help the poorest of the poor, unlike TNCs who will only invest in slightly more developed countries that are more stable because these provide a better prospect for profit.
NGOs provide one of the most critical voices of government aid agendas and provide a broader range of knowledge about life in developing countries compared to Official Aid Agencies
Limitations and Criticisms of Non-Governmental Organisations
NGOs provide a tiny amount of aid compared to Governments and the World Bank – ODA from Britain is around £10 billion a year, total donations to development charities measured in the hundreds of millions. This relative lack of funding means NGOs can only do a limited amount compared to bigger, official aid agencies. NGOs cannot help to bring about Industrialistion or serious economic growth, only help small local communities with social development.
NGOs spend much of their money on glossy advertising campaigns and administration costs rather than helping people in the developing world – a good 25% of money raised is spent on such costs.
A lot of aid campaigns portray images of Africans as starving and helpless in order to generate sympathy and thus donations. This perpetuates the idea of Africa as a helpless continent incapable of helping itself, whereas the opposite is actually true – Africa is full of incredibly creative entrepreneurs.
NGO Aid can often be misguided, doing more harm than good such as with the ‘buy a goat campaign’ or the ‘sponsor a child campaign’.
There is a very wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs are groups of concerned citizens who are independent of the government and business, and are thus nominally non-political and non-profit organisations. NGOs typically have charity status and raise funds through a combination of voluntary donations from the public, but also grants from governments and other international development institutions.
Many NGOs are tiny, focusing on development in one region and specializing in one area, others, however, are global institutions, have huge budgets and work in several countries on numerous types of development project. This section focuses on these larger ‘aid organisations’ with an international focus – such as Oxfam and Action Aid. Although such organisations have an international focus, they still have a tendency to divide their attention so they focus on hundreds of different micro-level projects at one time.
Commentators generally point to four functions of NGOs in development
The development function – Probably the most obvious – This typically involves focusing on small scale aid projects such as local irrigation schemes, or developing rural health and education schemes in conjunction with local communities.
The Empowerment Function – More so than with private companies and Governments – NGOs aim to ‘empower’ local communities – This involves striving to give local communities a role in how aid projects are developed, but also lobbying International institutions like the European Union to establish trade rules which do not unfairly advantage Western companies and farmers. (We’ll come back to this point later).
The Education Function – Oxfam is a good example of an NGO that puts a lot of money into developing education for schools and advertising to keep developing world issues in the public consciousness.
The ‘emergency aid function’ – when natural or social disasters occur – Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Famines for example – NGOs are often the front line in the delivery of emergency aid.
The following two thinkers argue that aid can work, but it needs to be better targeted in order to be effective. This is really a return to ‘neo-modernisation theory’.
Paul Collier (2008)
Collier’s analysis of aid suggests that aid is merely a ‘holding operation preventing things from falling apart’. However, he does argue that without aid, the countries of the bottom billion would have become even poorer than they are today.
However, Collier’s evidence also indicates that the more aid is increased, the less is the return on economic growth. Collier argues that aid is often rendered ineffective by two obstacles, or traps in some recipient countries:
The conflict trap – too many countries receiving foreign aid are engaged in expensive civil wars or military conflicts with their neighbours.
The bad governance trap – Collier highlights the problem of kleptocracies – the corrupt elites which run many developing societies. The commission for Africa estimated that the amount of money stolen by corrupt elites and held in foreign bank accounts is equivalent to more than half of Africa’s debts.
Collier argues that these traps prevent aid from being spent effectively – because a significant proportion of aid money gets siphoned off into funding the military or simply into the pockets of rich elites.
Peter Riddell (2007)
Riddell (2007) argues that rich countries need to shoulder the blame for the failure of aid because:
They often fail to distribute it to the countries that need it. For example, less than half of all aid is channelled to the poorest countries.
There are too many donors and projects, which fail to co-operate with each other and undermines the effectiveness of aid.
Aid agencies often fail to promote a sense of ownership of development projects among local people, and so the projects fail because the locals don’t support them.
Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins.
Should Foreign Aid be Abandoned or Adapted? Huffington Post Article
Early modernisation theoristsbelieved that it was essential to inject aid into countries to establish infrastructure and change attitudes. From the 1950s to 70s aid programs seemed to have a positive effect on many developing countries as both economic and social development increased, however this progress seamed to stall from the late 1970s.
Contemporary supporters of aid believe that aid is not necessarily a bad thing, but aid needs to be targeted, its effects monitored and accountability measures need to be in place, so that aid money doesn’t go astray, like the $10 billion lent to Indonesia during General Suharto’s rule between 1965-1995.
In the ‘End of Poverty’ (2005) Sachs notes that large scale aid can work when it is practical, targeted, science based and measurable. He believes in aid as ‘one big push’ to sort out specific problems. He points to the following evidence to support his view that aid works:
Firstly, aid aimed at improving health has been particularly successful. Aid money has led to mass immunisation of children against diseases such as smallpox and measles, polio, diphtheria. Smallpox was practically wiped out with $100 million of very targeted aid aimed at vaccinating those most at risk. Today, Barder (2011) points out that every year foreign aid pays for 80% of immunisations and saves 3 million lives a year.
The recent sharp decline in Malaria deaths is largely due to targeted immunisation, paid for by international aid, a cause championed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation
Secondly – The Green Revolution – In the 1960s, Western Aid assisted in the green revolution in China, India and South East Asia which saw rice yields increase by 2-3 times, leading to surplus rice being produced for export. Such countries were then able to use the income generated by these cash crops to diversify and grow their economies, transforming into Newly Industrialised Countries (The Asian Tiger Economies). The video below outlines the case for the Green Revolution.
Thirdly, Numerous countries, known as the International Development Association (IDA) graduates have gone on to ‘drive to maturity’ following large injections of aid money. Riddel (2014) argues that there is a substantial body of evidence that South Korea, Botswana and Indonesia have all benefited economically from Official Development Assistance.
Aid can support the Interests of Developed Countries (*)
According to Marren (2015), there is plenty of evidence that aid is shaped by the self-interest of the donor countries:
Aid may be used as a ‘sweetener’ to gain access to resources and markets and foster better trade links. The USA has used aid to guarantee access to scarce resources such as oil, while the increased donor activity of China in recent years may be linked to its need for raw materials. This goes some way to explaining why more aid money goes to lower-middle income countries rather than low-income countries – put simply, donor countries stand to gain more from giving aid the slightly better off rather than the very poorest.
Aid may be a way stimulating the donor economy. Some countries attach conditions to aid stipulating that a proportion of the funds must be spent on goods manufactured in the donor country. This is known as ‘tied aid’. The UK banned this kind of aid in 2001, although research conducted by The Guardian newspaper found that only 9 out of a total of 117 major DFID contracts (worth nearly £750 million) had gone to non-British companies.
Aid may be a way of strengthening political links and securing strategic interests. Countries which are viewed by the Americans as allies in the ‘War against Terror’ are generously rewarded with aid. A recent study of U.S. Aid since the 2000s showed that the main destinations were Afghanistan, Iraq and Egypt. Similarly, UK aid is increasingly being spent on military objectives.
Statistics on the Benefits of UK Aid (*)
The majority of UK aid spent between 2015-2019 was spent in Africa, and you can get a detailed breakdown of expenditure by sector and region in the most recent DFID report linked below (NB DFID has now merged with the FCO, so whether future reporting will be the same remains to be seen!)
Combatting malnutrition – From 2015-2020 DFID reached 55.1 million children under 5, women of childbearing age and adolescent girls through our nutrition-relevant programmes.
Water, sanitation and hygiene – Between 2015 and 2020 DFID has supported 62.6 million people to gain access to clean water and/or better sanitation.
Education – Between 2015 and 2020 DFID supported at least 15.6 million children to gain a decent education.
Jobs and Income – From 2015/16 to 2019/20 DFID supported 5million people to raise their incomes or maintain/gain a better job or livelihood.
Family Planning – Between April 2015 and March 2020, DFID reached an average of 25.3 million total women and girls with modern methods of family planning per year
Health – Immunisations – From the start of 2015 until the end of 2018, DFID support immunised an estimated 74.3 million children, saving 1.4 million lives.
Access to Finance – Between 2015 and 2019 DFID supported 69.2 million people to gain access to finance, including 35.4 million women, representing 51% of the total
Energy – From 2015/16 to 2019/20 DFID installed 771 KW hours of clean energy capacity.
Of course there is a question mark over how effective the aid spent in the above statistics has been, which is one of the many criticisms made of Official Development Aid, which you can read about in this post here.
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