WHEN it comes to international aid, there seems to be a particular rhetoric used to tarnish anyone who questions its use. It is spun as a simple argument; one is either for or against overseas aid. That it is an all-or-nothing matter. That is simply not the case.
In 2015 the Government passed an Act to make it the law that international aid spending must be 0.7 per cent of gross national income – whatever that amount is. So every year our GNI increases, and the value of the 0.7 per cent increases, means another year where the Department for International Development have to run around finding projects across the globe that we can throw money at to meet the target. Overwhelmingly, this seems to be regardless of the productiveness of these projects. No self-respecting Conservative believes you should be judged simply on how much you spend on something – that is a socialist approach.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen international aid spending rapidly increase from just £5.93bn in 2005 to £12.14bn last year. This year spending is forecast to be £13.3bn, with projections showing this to increase to £15.7bn in 2020. Yet while the overseas aid budget, one of only three budgets to be protected from cuts, increases by 265 per cent in just under 15 years, at home local authorities and government departments have faced budget restrictions and efficiency has been the name of the game.
For me, charity begins at home. That means making sure that those who have paid into the coffers throughout their working lives are looked after in their later years. That means ensuring that the most vulnerable and disabled in our society are given the care they need.
So when we are asked to either pay more through increased council tax bills, to tax everyone again, I think it is high time to look at the budgets that have been ring-fenced already.
Social care in undoubtedly the biggest issue facing this generation and the next, and I do not believe we are anywhere near the tip of the iceberg. With everyone living longer lives, it is inevitable that the system would need to grow. However, the population has grown faster than the system. With projections estimated that by 2020 the social care black hole will be around £2.6bn, the crisis is becoming more acute, and we need to realistically find a way of funding this.
Increasing council tax by a couple of per cent each year is a small effort in the grand scheme of tackling the social care crisis, but will have crippling effects on those paying it. It is about time the Government got real on what we can afford to spend and where our priorities lie. You would not advise a neighbour to give money to charity instead of paying for their much needed care, so we should not expect the Government to do that either.
Many people cannot afford a three per cent rise in council tax bills year on year, and it is not fair to ask already struggling, and hard working families to fork out more money to plug the shortfalls because Ministers are sending over £12bn a year abroad, especially when the Government’s stated priority is for those people just about managing.
As I said, international aid is not an all-or-nothing matter. Of course we should continue to provide humanitarian support when natural disasters hit countries – such as the tsunami a few Christmases ago – and where war is displacing people and causing terrible suffering, as we see in Syria. The British people have always been the most generous and compassionate and we must and will always continue to be.
However, in too many countries, overseas aid is welfare dependency on a grand scale. Instead of putting in place governance arrangements to tackle corruption and attract inward investment they sit back and wait for the next handout. For development spending we should only give money where countries agree to certain governance conditions. For every country we should have an action plan where we wean countries off aid until they can stand on their own two feet. In too many countries in Africa, despite tens of billions pumped into them over decades they are no further forward.
We cannot be opposed to welfare dependency at home but entrench welfare dependency through overseas aid abroad. So let us give dignity and proper care to the elderly in our own country first, and any money left over let’s then spend it on helping people abroad. At the moment we guarantee spending money abroad and anything left over is spent at home – that cannot possibly be right.
Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley.