In defence of Foreign Aid spending

October 27, 2017 8:39 AM
By Marko Scepanovic; Chair of Crawley Liberal Democrats

As I write, I'm sitting on a crowded bus as it moves through the busy streets of Kolkata. As readers know, India was a recipient of the UK's foreign aid fund until late 2015. The UK spends £12bn per annum on various projects abroad, and this equates to 0.7% of total national spending. India in 2015 received £150 million of that.

However, soon after the Conservative's won a majority in 2015, the department decided to end sending funds to India. Whilst the reason provided was that India was a growing and wealthy nation with its own space programme, it is clear that a campaign of exaggeration and hysteria by certain elements of the media, and fringe Conservative politicians, had played their part.

There are always legitimate questions to be asked about the effectiveness of the funding and whether the project being funded is making a difference. But, a wholesale stoppage of funding to a country with an impoverished population due to the decisions and priorities of that country's government cannot be justified.

Morally, there is a duty on every person to do what they can to help their fellow human beings, no matter which country they happen to live in. Trust by the British public in foreign aid has been weakened following campaigns by the newspapers but, we should not let a lack of trust blind that moral duty.

Much of the foreign aid funding now goes to agencies and charities on the ground rather than directly to national governments, and this ensures that the money is spent where it is needed. Anyone who has visited India will know immediately that the divide between rich and poor is so extreme that there is a long way to go, and the UK can still play its part.

Walk through the streets of Kolkata in the early hours of the morning and your senses will be bombarded with the smell of burning plastic. Recycling remains a huge issue across large Indian cities as there is no waste collection. Burning such materials on the street is the only way to dispose of it, and yet it poisons both the residents and the environment. Not just in India, but across many large cities in poorer nations, there needs to be greater support towards recycling and waste management initiatives.

The UK has a good track record on recycling. Our technical knowledge and foreign aid funding ought to be used in countries such as India, and others, to improve quality of life, and the surrounding environment, as the benefits will be felt by everyone.