Liberal Democrats fight for the world’s poorest

Women in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people, north Darfur, Sudan - Some rights reserved by DFID - UK Department for International DevelopmentFor many Liberal Democrat members the heavy election defeat was disheartening. However, the party can take strength from their contribution to governing the United Kingdom from 2010-2015.

One such example is the achievement made in the area of overseas aid. What were the achievements? When the Liberal Democrats were in government the UK reached the 0.7% figure of all national income, that should go towards foreign aid, for the first time ever; then enshrined the commitment in law.

This was a great achievement, considering the venom directed at the policy spearheaded by the Liberal Democrats.

Tory MP Philip Davies said the following about the Liberal Democrats efforts to help the world’s poorest:

It will just be a handout to make a few middle class, Guardian-reading, sandal wearing do-gooders with a misguided guilt complex feel better about themselves.

It is funny that Mr Davies says these words. He is a rugged individualist when it comes to overseas aid. Yet, when it comes to receiving his expenses to carry out his duties as a public representative suddenly sharing tax payer’s money is noble. The MP has the distinction of claiming the most in his district of Bradford in 2009 – £161,300.

Also, you will never hear the Conservative Party tell the Queen to pop down to the job centre. This is even though the monarchy costs the British taxpayer 56p out of every pound, which is eight times what overseas aid receives.

It appears to be that if people are fortunate enough to be elected to serve the people, or born into a privileged family, they should receive millions in public money without question. However, if you are poor you are on your own.

With such startling double standards it is remarkable that the Liberal Democrats achieved what they did: enshrining the commitment to the world’s poorest in law.

What does the continuing commitment mean to the developing world? It means the United Kingdom is committed to playing a lasting role in improving the lives of the world’s poor.

Within the context of advocacy work, organisations that fight poverty such as can focus their attention in other areas knowing the government is unlikely to roll back on the commitment.

Almost by accident the Liberal Democrats have opened up opportunities to rebuild their party through its focus on areas such as overseas aid.

The party has a genuine commitment to helping the less fortunate, even when there are no votes to be received for doing so. How can this be proven? Currently the Liberal Democrats are the only party running an online petition to end female genital mutilation in a generation.

Organisations such as One are running a campaign called “poverty is sexist“, petitioning people to pressure world leaders to help the world’s poorest women.

Outside of the minute details of party policy, the Liberal Democrats and various organisations have common ground to work on without the expectation of political support, or endorsement.

Being active outside of party-related events will allow the Liberal Democrats to build links with activists across society, and reinvigorate itself. It will become in touch with the concerns of real people, in a way Labour used to be with trade unions.

Regardless of the hammering in the recent elections the Liberal Democrats can be proud of their record in government. They faced down hypocrites and double standards, making the lives of the poor at home, and abroad, better.

* Shane Burke a social liberal, living in the Republic of Ireland, who generally follows the Liberal Democrats when it comes to UK politics.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • ‘The party has a genuine commitment to helping the less fortunate’. Please be wary of throwing out lines like this in an otherwise good read. Voters tempted to forgive you and come back will just think BEDROOM TAX.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Aug '15 - 5:07pm

    Consider this a “critical friend” comment, because I’m very much on the same side of the argument as the OP when it comes to both the important issue of overseas aid and the sideshow of the monarchy – but I suggest the editing out of an egregious error: “the monarchy costs the British taxpayer 56p out of every pound, which is eight times what overseas aid receives.” Wrong in spades. The monarchy, according to the article linked to, annually costs the British taxpayer (or more accurately, all British residents) 56 p each, not “56p out of every pound”; while the 0.7% of national income for overseas aid represents an annual budget of about £12 billion, or about £185 per head, i.e. about 330 times as much as the monarchy. Which is fine with me, by the way.

  • John Tilley 14th Aug '15 - 5:58pm

    Malcolm Todd
    You make a fare point about accuracy.
    However I think some people would say you spoil your own point with some figures which are questionable.

    The financing of the British Royal Family is not as clear and transparent as you suggest.
    Parliament is not allowed to discuss it and now, after a very recent change all things Royal have been exempted from the Freedom of Information Act (I think I have got that last bit right but would welcome correction if wrong).

    If you just take the finances of Prince Charles for example.
    A nice little earner for him (not his only source of wealth and not the only way in which taxpayers support his extravagent lifestyle) is the so-called Duchy of Cornwall. I am guessing the £ Millions of The Duchy are ot included in your figures?

    This is what the organisation REPUBLIC say —
    “…The Duchy is a corporation that isn’t incorporated, a company that isn’t registered, it trades like any other business yet refuses to pay tax and enjoys unique legal privileges.  We’re talking here about the organisation run by Charles, not the land to the west of Devon. 
    The Duchy also hands its multi-million pound profits to Charles, without first bothering to pay corporation tax.  Charles uses the Duchy as a vehicle to fund his own projects and charities, all designed to promote his own agenda and project his own influence.
    The Duchy is a major land owner and property developer yet has unique commercial advantages, simply because Charles is the son of the Queen.
    The Duchy has never been the private property of the Windsor family.  It was effectively privatised in the nineteenth century, back when the king handed over the Crown Estate to parliamentary control.  Charles was made sole-shareholder forty years ago, when he became Duke of Cornwall.”

  • Shane Burke 14th Aug '15 - 6:28pm

    My apologies for my mistake on the mathematics regarding the monarchy . This is my first venture into UK politics, and your criticism will be valuable going forward.

    The bedroom tax is very odd where I am living at the moment Ireland it would be considered insane to reduce someones housing benefit because they have a spare room where they live.

  • Shane Burke
    Your basic point about the monarchy still stands.
    There are more than 400 spare bedrooms in Buckingham Palace (one of dozens of places and houses used by the Royal Family). Buckingham Palace is seldom slept in by any members of the Royal Family so one wonders what happens in all those bedrooms. So far no bedroom tax has been handed over for this building.

    We could house the entire population of The Calais Jungle in a couple of the seldom used Royal Estates and nobody would even notice them.

    The purpose-built swimming pool for horses at the Princess Royal’s pad might be an unwelcome reminder for people who had to cross the mediterranean in dangerous boats but I am sure we could get over that potential problem.

    Maybe Prince William could fly the refugees from Calais in his £8 million pound personalised helicopter (bought for him as a birthday present by his grandma)?

    Or maybe we could stop pretending that we care tuppence about aid to the poor and starving of the world and just carry on funding the millionaire lifestyles of a few people who just happened to be born in the right bed!

  • Richard Underhill 15th Aug '15 - 7:38pm

    She did parachute into the Olympics with James Bond.

  • Thanks for a very interesting article. We did an amazing thing getting the commitment to 0.7%, and you are very right, we should be justly proud.

    The next, and arguably more important step, is making sure the money is well spent. Like you say, we care about the world’s poorest, which is why we must focus all our attention on effectiveness. If we let our bottom line be how much we spend we’d get into the same mess as Labour so often does in managing public services.

    DFID is one of the better international aid organisations in the world for effectiveness compared to the size of its budget, but there are lots of priorities that should be bumped higher up to make sure we help as many people as possible.

    DFID is very good for its work on Neglected Tropical Diseases and LLIT bednets for malaria, these are widely recognised as some of the most beneficial treatments in global health today. We should argue hard to increase the proportion of funds dedicated to these treatments, compared to interventions that may make us feel better, but which don’t help the poor as much as we hope.

    One obvious policy recommendation: For all activities in the field of health have the department’s annual report include estimates of the number of Disability Adjusted Life Years (or Quality Adjusted Life Years, the two measures are broadly similar) associated with the campaign, and the cost for each.

  • Richard Stallard 16th Aug '15 - 12:41pm

    Yes, increasing the overseas aid budget was one of the LDs better achievements.

    Although it is sold to the public as such, its primary purpose isn’t so much to ‘aid the poor and starving’ of the world’. It’s more about keeping the right people in power and maintaining the status quo internationally.

    It’s quite nice, of course, if some of the overseas aid money does get spent on a country’s poor but if by creaming off some of it to buy a gold-plated Rolls Royce or whatever, a dictator in some far-flung banana republic is kept happy and that stops him upsetting the balance in the region, that then saves us having to go and and sort it out for them at great cost to ourselves.

    People might harp on about the overseas aid budget but it’s an essential part of maintaining our influence and it enables us to keep foreign governments ‘on side’ and not tempted to side with our enemies.

  • Hat tip, to Richard Stallard, for a breathtakingly candid and truthful, revelation of what Dfid’s £12 billion per year is really spent on.
    In short,.. its ‘brown envelope’ money, pure and simple. If poor people get a sniff of any of that money, it’s probably more due to luck.
    The Dfid website is replete with excel spreadsheets that give the illusion of transparency over where this funding goes. But the deepest you can dig into the spreadsheets, is to find that in 2013 Nigeria, received something in the region of £243 million from the Dfid fund. So what poverty reducing projects did Nigeria spend it on,.. Water treatment plants?,.. Sewage treatment infrastructure?,.. Schools?,…Communications infrastructure? Wouldn’t you think that Dfid could supply that level of information to account for that serious amount of cash?
    I challenge anyone to find out what projects that cash was used for in Nigeria. I tried to find out under the FoI Act, and the reply they gave was so convoluted that I couldn’t tell if they *did know*, but weren’t telling,.. or *they hadn’t a clue* and so, couldn’t tell.
    £12 billion per year is a serious amount of money, and it’s naive to simply assume it goes to the poor. If Dfid aren’t clear where the money goes, why should the public be reassured? Richard Stellard is right, this Dfid money was never intended for the poor, its brown envelope ‘bung money’, to keep dictators and warlords sweet, and the regions they lord over, calm, and ‘out of our Western hair’.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Aug '15 - 4:16pm

    John Dunn 16th Aug ’15 – 3:47pm OTT. The line of argument turns allged partial failure to deliver into alleged partial or complete corruption by the donor.

  • Richard Stallard 16th Aug '15 - 6:28pm

    Don’t worry, Richard, I’m not criticising the LD’s for vastly increasing the ‘bung money’ budget – far from it. It’s an essential part of maintaining the status quo and our influence abroad following the shrinking of the empire. It costs far too much nowadays to keep troops stationed abroad to protect our interests, so we sometimes have to do it in other ways, and the increased overseas aid budget is certainly one of the more palatable.

    In Iraq in the 1930s, we used to quell unrest and keep the tribes in line by bombing a few villages and it worked pretty well. – it was a dream posting for the RAF Squadrons out there. It’s not seen as PC to do that any more, so this where the bung-money comes in (not in Iraq, of course, but wherever else we need to keep a particular country on side).

    Of course, it all goes a bit pear-shaped if the leader decides to spend the money on arms to invade his neighbour but, hey-ho, you can’t win ’em all.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Aug '15 - 7:48pm

    Richard Stallard 16th Aug ’15 – 6:28pm “In Iraq in the 1930s, we used to quell unrest and keep the tribes in line by bombing a few villages and it worked pretty well. – it was a dream posting for the RAF Squadrons out there. ”
    My father was a volunteer in the RAF out there at the time. It was before i was born. i do not recall him ever saying that it was a ‘dream posting’.
    The UK took on the League of Nations mandate to keep the peace after we had defeated the Ottoman Empire in WW1, but the UK lacked funds because of the expense of WW1. The strategy in empire was to pick off the best bits such as diamond mines, as Flanders and Swann said “We had got all the bits we wanted” so Iraq (and Palestine) were loss making. There were fewer motor cars on our roads, so demand for oil was lower.

  • Shane Burke 17th Aug '15 - 8:22am

    John you make a good point about finding the impact overseas aid actually makes to peoples lives. It is an damning indictment that the UK government is so lackluster in defending overseas aid from nasty comments by not talking about the difference it makes.

    However, I do not expect the Conservatives Party to justify the mutual benefits the UK , and aid recipients get from aid. That is why it is up to the Lib Dems to come out swinging, and defend the good they did in government.

  • Shane Burke
    David Cameron, has not only defended the Overseas Aid Budget, but has even ring fenced it from any austerity cuts. Does that one fact not ring alarm bells, or do you believe Cameron actually cares for the overseas poor?
    Only when you realise the true purpose of that Dfid pot of money, does Dodgy Dave’s support for it make any sense.? Dodgy Dave, knows only too well, that the Overseas Aid Budget, is a cover title for a £12 billion per year, slush fund, from which Dodgy Dave can allocate gobs of cash to ‘grease the wheels’, of the UK’s overseas dodgy dealings.
    If I’m wrong, lets dig deep on Dfid and open it up to the cleansing sunlight of public scrutiny, and see the *detailed* accounts of where all that ‘Aid’ cash is really going,… because it certainly isn’t earmarked for the poor.

  • John Dunn hang on a minute now, what evidence do you have for your assertion of “dodgy dealings” and if it is true, why did the Lib Dems at the heart of Government for the last five years not “dig deep” and expose this ??

  • Daniel Adshead 18th Aug '15 - 8:34pm

    The Party should have done more to reform DfID so that the department is fit for purpose. The level of waste, and the questionable allocation of resources, is criminal. Justine Greening and Grant Schapps only compound the problem. This hard-fought 0.7% of GDP budget is in vain unless the department improves, transparency, strategy, long-term goals, and, most importantly, delivery.

    For example, I am most concerned that we give more in aid to Turkey and Bosnia than to CAR, South Sudan or Burundi: three nations experiencing among the worst humanitarian crises of the time. Outside of Kenya, the entire African Great lakes region is largely ignored.

  • Richard Stallard 18th Aug '15 - 11:06pm

    @ Daniel.
    Why do we give more to Turkey? Because Turkey is in a strategic and political position that is hugely important to us, especially with the rise of Islamic State. We need to keep them on-side.

    Bosnia – because it has always been a problem area (relatively close to home) with its people still divided along ethnic and religious lines. If the lid isn’t kept firmly on, it could easily blow up again. I quite enjoyed my time there, but I really don’t want to have to go back and sort them out all over again – I had enough of them and their bloomin’ minefields last time!

    CAR, South Sudan and Burundi? The CAR was German and French, I believe. South Sudan was never ours in the same way as Sudan itself was, and Burundi was German. None of them are really influential or in strategically important positions and there’s not a lot in any of them for us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t chuck them few bob if they’re having problems at the moment, but there are rather more strategically important and influential places in the world.

    Kenya is, of course, closely linked and we still send troops there for valuable overseas training, so we definitely need to keep them on-side.

  • Daniel Adshead 20th Aug '15 - 8:04pm

    …Yes. I’m familiar with the geopolitical expediency of aid to certain target countries. However, aid does, sometimes, serve a humanitarian and development purpose, you know, or it is supposed to.

    This is the principle on which the 0.7% was fought for and upon which it was won.

    Giving money to Turkey – a newly industrialised country, that is now highly developed and possesses the largest economy in the Central & Eastern Europe region (the country is wealthier than Switzerland, Norway and Sweden by nominal GDP) – to upgrade its sewer system and finance a TV channel while Turkey is bombing Kurds, and increasingly marginalising its Christian population, will not win over the multitude on a policy, and budget arrangement, that is still controversial, and resented by plenty on the right.

    If you don’t like the example of Bosnia and Turkey receiving more in aid than the nations experiencing grave humanitarian crises (and already suffering serious underdevelopment and having among the lowest GDP per capita in the world), then how about Russia, Brazil and China receiving more in aid? China is ‘investing’ billions in Africa ($100bn by 2020), and has raised trade between the two partners to $400bn, but yet we subsidise their rural development initiatives which can easily be achieved off their own backs.

    We are spending money to promote tourism in national parks in Iceland, and train waiters in luxury hotels in the Caribbean, but not on feeding IDPs in South Sudan, or supporting victims of GBV in CAR.

    This is not what the AID budget is for. ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) is only meant to be used for “the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries” .

    Do the above examples qualify? One being the second largest economy in the world.

    Our own ID Act (2002) stipulates that aid should focus on poverty reduction. Yet that principle is not adhered to.

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