Flood protection or overseas aid? A false choice

Help UK
Over the festive period, I saw the image on the right on a social media site, stating, against a backdrop of flooded housing:

It’s time to STOP sending money abroad and help people in the UK now. LIKE, COMMENT or SHARE if you agree?

A comment under the image mentioned:

…the 250 million we are giving to India to fund their Space Programme.

Oh dear. Where to start? Call me an old pedant, but I’m naturally suspicious of any entreaty which feels the need to include block capitals. But that’s just one of my little foibles.

My mind boggled at the idea that we are giving “250 million” to India to fund their Space Programme. It took just a quick Google to see where that came from. Our old friend the Daily Mail had a remarkably thoroughly, if one-sidedly, researched article on 15th February 2015 which was headlined as follows:

EXCLUSIVE: Lunar-cy! India gets enough cash in British aid to allow it to send a £250million rocket to the moon… even though government promised to stop it

Do you see what they did there? The first line of the article clarified this a little:

The UK is to give India another quarter of a billion pounds in aid by 2019 – the same amount New Delhi spent to launch its first mission to put a man on the moon.

Ah. So, the UK is not giving “250 million…to India to fund their Space Programme”. We are investing in projects in India, where the total outlay is roughly the same as the amount which India spends on their space programme.
It should be said that the Indian space programme produces benefits which help the fight against poverty, such as in predicting tumultuous weather events.

UK aid in India has gone towards helping the very poorest in society. The BBC’s Justin Rowlatt has an excellent report here which explains the great poverty in India and how British aid has helped fund projects with some of the most marginalised people in the entire country. He visits a community of Muslims and untouchables – Dalits – in Bihar, the poorest state in India:

We were ushered into a dim house off the tangle of streets that make up the small town of Biharsharif. Thirty women, many with babies and infants in tow, had gathered to meet us.
In one corner was a huge pile of dried cowpats – a store of fuel for cooking and to warm houses in the cold winter months.
The women are part of a community organisation – set up by a local NGO called the Poorest Areas Civil Society programme (PACS) – which receives funding from the British government.
The idea, says Arti Verma who runs the project, is to make sure these women – and millions like them across the country – access the money and services that are available to them from the Indian government.
“Basically we work with the communities from the marginalised background and we make them aware of their rights and entitlements related to health, education, livelihood,” she explained.
A key objective is to make sure they deliver their babies in hospital, giving both mother and baby a much better chance of survival. Until recently few did, anxious that because of caste or religion they might be discriminated against in hospital.

British support for India is now being phased over from “aid” to “technical assistance”, a point which the Mail fiercely disputes.

We can be extremely proud that the UK is sticking to its commitment to spend 0.7% of its GDP on international development projects. We are helping some of the poorest people in the world at the cost of about ten pence from an average taxpayer per day. We’re in the top three for transparency on what we spend abroad. The Independent has stated that:

In 20 years, the number of people living on less than £1 a day halved from 43% of the world’s population in 1990, to 21% in 2010. Add that to the 10m boys and girls who went to school last year because of UK aid, as well as the 48 million children immunised from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea…

It’s not beyond the wit of a sophisticated society such as the UK to be able to properly fund flood protection and give aid to the poorest in the world and do the myriad of other things the government does. It is in the finest traditions of the UK that we show generosity to the poorest communities in the world.

The government was warned back in November that flood protection was extremely vulnerable. We should not let the poorest people in the world suffer (more than they are) because of poor government planning with regard to flood prevention.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • paul barker 5th Jan '16 - 12:30pm

    “Charity begins at home.” That is not the same as saying that Charity should end at home.
    Incidentally, the Indian Space Program, like ours, is mostly commercial.

  • Barry Snelson 5th Jan '16 - 1:48pm

    So….. if the Indian government cared as much about Bihar as it does about the Sea of Tranquillity they would have £500 million to spend or let us keep our £250 M.
    Your warm glow of self satisfaction, at being the world’s rich uncle, is at the expense of our grandchildren who will have to repay this largesse. We are borrowing money to give it away.

  • Paul , as usual , intelligent and humane , thank you . Agree as so many do surely , a false choice . There are arguments for scaling back support given to increasingly developed and powerful states , personally I think we are investing in people which is correct , but one way or the other giving to our own people and to other peoples , is the choice for something not instead of . It s an appalling thing that people cannot see we give to countries in a historical context , not that we owe India , but that we love India ! They are our relatives .

  • The government was warned back in November that flood protection was extremely vulnerable.
    Given the floods happened in December, a matter of a few weeks after the government was given a non-specific warning, just what were you expecting the government to do? wave a magic wand?

    The issue with respect to foreign aid is that we have enshrined in law our pledge to devote 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid, regardless of domestic circumstances and need. So it is right to question whether now was the right time to make such a pledge, particularly given the problems we are currently having in ensuring existing levels of aid actually get to those most in need (as Paul illustrates in his points about India), the projected increases in foreign aid (circa £1Bn a year), and the precarious state of both our economy and government finances as laid out in the chancellor’s autumn statement.

    As an aside, the problem the UK has in spending its foreign aid budget (£11.7bn in 2014) effectively, is one also being faced by well-financed organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who are also having great difficulty in effectively spending their multi-billon endowment (they spent $3.9bn in 2014) faster than it is accumulating…

  • Roland 5th Jan ’16 – 2:58pm……………..The government was warned back in November that flood protection was extremely vulnerable…………
    Given the floods happened in December, a matter of a few weeks after the government was given a non-specific warning, just what were you expecting the government to do? wave a magic wand?……………………….

    8 years ago after the Pitt report, spending was increased by a third…..There was money allocated for around 1500 projects….
    In their 2010/11 spending review the Tory/LibDem coalition reduced that figure to 356 and reduced spending by 27%…

    It doesn’t take a ‘crystal ball’ let alone a ‘magic wand’ to work out that “Cuts have Consequences”

  • Rebecca Taylor 5th Jan '16 - 3:29pm

    Or put more simply: if we are concerned about the lack of funds allocated to flood defences, why don’t we look at the 99.3% of the UK government budget NOT spent on international aid?

    I’m sure we can find ways to fund adequate flood defences that don’t involve denying some of the world’s poorest people things like clean water and childhood vaccination.

  • @expats (and others) – I suggest you review
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/chancellor-has-key-questions-to-answer-on-flooding-farron-48793.html#comment-390109 and other comments over government funding.

    Rebecca – Yes I’m sure we can look at other government expenditure and then have a debate about the relative merits of say free school dinners or any other item people wish to pull out of the 99.3% pot over flood mitigation schemes. I think it is clear why people have made a link to foreign aid, particularly when some of that aid is being used for flood mitigation schemes abroad… I use the word ‘mitigation’ as from the current evidence flooding is going to be part of our lives (in the UK) in the coming decades, like it or not, regardless of how much successive governments do or do not spend; remember none of the schemes would of prevented the record levels of flooding seen nor would they have prevented the poor design of the River Foss flood barrier.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jan '16 - 9:58pm

    It is a false choice. The consequences of the war in Syria provide financial needs which could overwhelm the UK aid budget.
    There was a debate in the Commons on 5/1/2016 about floods in the UK. The Minister has had cause to travel widely in England. She said that the priority is to get money to those who need it, via the grants to local councils, but the maximum grant is £5,000 and some of those who have suffered need £30,000 to £40,000, according to a Tory MP.
    Tim Farron spoke about Cumbria, including an important A road which is still closed, and on which the Minister gave no new assurances. Possibly she cannot, being constrained by the Chancellor and/or needing co-operation from others in the silos she mentioned.
    Planting trees would create sponges absorbing 50-60 times the absorbtion of heather moorland, but require her 6 year plan and her 20-30 year plan. By implication part of the blame falls on the actions or inactions of the Blair-Brown governments.
    Greg Clark was sitting next to her with a down-turned mouth. Several Tory and Labour MPs asked about building housing on flood plains. She said that local councils now have the final say. Of course much of the building has already been done.
    She did say that they would not be thinking in silos, but across several departments, which would be good if it happens, but will it happen on budgets?.
    She is thinking in terms of catchment areas, which is right for rainfall, but requires MPs of several parties in England to work together. If MPs want a meeting with the Minister, which many do, they can come in groups representing, for instance, the Leeds area.
    An SNP MP wanted to make a statement about what is happening in Scotland, but was very politely guided by the Speaker to ask a question. A Plaid Cymru member was referred by the Minister to the Labour government in Wales.
    Several MPs asked about applying for EU funding, which the Minister has not done. She said the money would take 7 months to come through, and, by implication, that is why her department has not started on the job. There was no suggestion that the Treasury or the Cabinet Office would help her make the application. The Tories have several MEPs. What are they doing?

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '16 - 9:01am

    I look at the flooding with sadness, lots of words not enough action.

    I lived in a freezing Georgian flat in the City of Bath. Storage heating, useless, with the very high ceilings. Five storage heaters around £10 per week each, and there was also various other small heaters. An extremely damp, cold property. Too expensive for heating.

    When I visited the then, Lib Dem MP, not much interest.

    Carbon Footprint, of course not.

    Unless we view the damage that is caused by the way we abuse the planet, more rain, more flooding, more misery.

    In Bath student housing has gone mad, its everywhere. Hotels the same, even a casino. The city I knew with its industry disappears.

    We need to get real, stating you love nature, actually so do I, I respect the beauty of what was created, every Friday and Saturday.

    I am complaining because things are not where they should be. There are still housing properties with one of the largest housing associations with heating that is out dated, and housing not great either. I still comment.

    I ended up with an energy bill of around £1000, still not warm with ice on the insides of the windows.

    Will the ideas that housing and energy wasting is not green, even in the social housing sector. Now a words not appreciated.

  • Richard Underhill 18th May '16 - 3:21pm

    The Labour leader thanked a Tory MP about foreign aid on 0.7%, ignoring the Lib Dems in government and in legislation.

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