David Cameron's overseas aid spending target is arbitrary, random and could be seriously counter-productive

September 27, 2012 1:57 PM

David Cameron has been at the United Nations in New York this week, reaffirming his pledge that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on overseas aid by 2013.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long argued against increasing the budget of the Department for International Development (DfID). It should not be immune from having to find ways of delivering more for less like all other government departments (except Health), especially when serious concerns remain about whether value for money is being delivered out of its existing budget.

Earlier this month, Andrew Gilligan at the Sunday Telegraph exposed how £500 million of the DfID budget goes to consultants, some of whom are earning six-figure salaries.

Taxpayers expect that whatever of their cash ends up at DfID will go to the world’s poorest, not line the pockets of Western ‘aid barons’.

And just the other week Lord Ashcroft persuasively set out one reason why the arbitrary target of 0.7 per cent of national income is so ludicrous:
Quite rightly, the government has attacked targets for distorting priorities. Unfortunately, it is so focused on the anachronistic and random target of giving away 0.7% of Britain’s income that it ignores the obvious failings of its policies. So even declared successes melt away under scrutiny.

To give one example, ministers like to brag how many millions of impoverished children go to school thanks to British aid. Yet when the Independent Commission for Aid Impact investigated the spending of more than £1bn in three east African countries, it found it was failing to improve basic literacy and maths skills. It was all about hitting targets and creating headlines rather than examining whether children were learning or teachers bothering to turn up. No wonder Giles Bolton, Dfid’s former man in Rwanda, called aid ‘the least effective major public service funded by Western taxpayers.’

At present, DfID trumpets the fact that 0.56 per cent of British national income is going on overseas aid.

Yet as a Spectator (£) editorial pointed out last week, this is already far more than countries like France or the USA. In fact, the UK Government is already giving a greater proportion of national income in aid than any other G8 nation.

But here’s the most pertinent point in that Spectator editorial: the Government figures completely ignore the money donated to charities providing aid and development assistance overseas which comes from private individuals in the UK – people digging into their own pockets, independently of government, to help those less fortunate than themselves. Someone once called it the Big Society.

Indeed, figures from the NCVO/CAF’s Overview of Charitable Giving for 2010/11 estimate that Britons are donating to charity to the annual tune of £11 billion, of which 10 per cent goes overseas.

Adding £1.1 billion of privately-given aid to the state’s £8.6 billion for last year and you end up with a total of £9.7 billion – which equates to 0.64 per cent of national income.

And the Spectator rightly explained the danger of the Government hiking DfID spending yet further:
As taxes rise to fund DfID’s expansion, private donations may well fall. BY spending in defiance of public opinion, Cameron risks giving aid a bad name and inhibiting donations to British charities which have been doing extraordinary work for decades.
David Cameron has been at the United Nations in New York this week, reaffirming his pledge that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on overseas aid by 2013.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long argued against increasing the budget of the Department for International Development (DfID). It should not be immune from having to find ways of delivering more for less like all other government departments (except Health), especially when serious concerns remain about whether value for money is being delivered out of its existing budget.

Earlier this month, Andrew Gilligan at the Sunday Telegraph exposed how £500 million of the DfID budget goes to consultants, some of whom are earning six-figure salaries.

Taxpayers expect that whatever of their cash ends up at DfID will go to the world’s poorest, not line the pockets of Western ‘aid barons’.

And just the other week Lord Ashcroft persuasively set out one reason why the arbitrary target of 0.7 per cent of national income is so ludicrous:
Quite rightly, the government has attacked targets for distorting priorities. Unfortunately, it is so focused on the anachronistic and random target of giving away 0.7% of Britain’s income that it ignores the obvious failings of its policies. So even declared successes melt away under scrutiny.

To give one example, ministers like to brag how many millions of impoverished children go to school thanks to British aid. Yet when the Independent Commission for Aid Impact investigated the spending of more than £1bn in three east African countries, it found it was failing to improve basic literacy and maths skills. It was all about hitting targets and creating headlines rather than examining whether children were learning or teachers bothering to turn up. No wonder Giles Bolton, Dfid’s former man in Rwanda, called aid ‘the least effective major public service funded by Western taxpayers.’

At present, DfID trumpets the fact that 0.56 per cent of British national income is going on overseas aid.

Yet as a Spectator (£) editorial pointed out last week, this is already far more than countries like France or the USA. In fact, the UK Government is already giving a greater proportion of national income in aid than any other G8 nation.

But here’s the most pertinent point in that Spectator editorial: the Government figures completely ignore the money donated to charities providing aid and development assistance overseas which comes from private individuals in the UK – people digging into their own pockets, independently of government, to help those less fortunate than themselves. Someone once called it the Big Society.

Indeed, figures from the NCVO/CAF’s Overview of Charitable Giving for 2010/11 estimate that Britons are donating to charity to the annual tune of £11 billion, of which 10 per cent goes overseas.

Adding £1.1 billion of privately-given aid to the state’s £8.6 billion for last year and you end up with a total of £9.7 billion – which equates to 0.64 per cent of national income.

And the Spectator rightly explained the danger of the Government hiking DfID spending yet further:
As taxes rise to fund DfID’s expansion, private donations may well fall. BY spending in defiance of public opinion, Cameron risks giving aid a bad name and inhibiting donations to British charities which have been doing extraordinary work for decades.

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