Opinion: 2013 – Time to think afresh about International Development?

Lynne Featherstone in Zambia. Photo:  some rights reserved by DFID http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/8220719712/Another year, another set of attacks on development aid in the right-wing press. Prompted by a spectacularly ill-informed paper from Civitas, the Telegraph, Mail and Spectator tried once again to argue, without evidence, that high proportions of British aid are wasted.

The truth is that, under the Coalition, far more attention has been paid to value for money in aid spending than ever before. What is more, there’s little need to speculate about where Department for International Development (DFID) money goes, as it ranked as the most transparent aid agency in the world in the 2012 index produced by my colleagues at Publish What You Fund.

Although the decision to stick to the UK’s promise to give 0.7% of Gross National Income in aid was made before Lynne Featherstone became the first Lib Dem DFID minister in the summer re-shuffle, Liberal Democrats should unite in congratulating the government for doing the right thing. Who can doubt Nick Clegg’s influence on the refusal to “balance the books on the backs of the poorest”? By becoming the first G8 nation to fulfil forty-year-old 0.7% commitment, the UK will once again lead the way as an aid donor.

But that isn’t enough. For developing countries to be given the opportunity to develop themselves, the world’s richest nations need to go beyond aid and look at other areas of policy. Aid can only do so much to plug the gap when poor nations are losing precious resources because of tax evasion and avoidance and unfair trade barriers. Liberal Democrats have long argued for a whole of government approach to International Development, for example in the policy paper adopted by conference in 2010, Accountability to the Poor.

It is therefore good news that when the G8 comes to the UK in June, David Cameron has asked it to focus on three things: Tax, Trade and Transparency. Unlike the last UK G8 conference, at Gleneagles in 2005, the Lough Erne meeting will not primarily be about Development. But the Prime Minister’s three Ts are of self-evident and vital importance to all low- and middle-income countries — as well as to rich ones.

So the meeting will present a great opportunity for the G8 to bring all countries together. If it only acts in its own self-interest, it will very soon be irrelevant – the G20 is already more important. But by putting its own house in order for the benefit of all, the G8 can play a critical role.

Liberal Democrats must play their role in this, too. A group of us are therefore putting forward a motion to Spring Conference (full text below) calling for:

• The impact of tax evasion and avoidance on developing countries to be addressed in the G8 summit recommendations
• A whole of government approach to development to be adopted
• Liberal Democrats to continue to promote this approach in government and in the 2015 manifesto.

If you are a conference representative and would like to support this motion, please email your name, local party and membership number to: [email protected] and [email protected] The deadline is next Wednesday.


MOTION ON INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT submitted by ten conference representatives

– Conference welcomes the Government’s continuing commitment to meet the aid target of 0.7% of Gross National income, in spite of challenging economic circumstances, and applauds the fact that in 2013 the UK will become the first G8 country to meet this commitment;
– Conference notes that the UK Presidency of the G8 in 2013 presents a particular opportunity to demonstrate continuing leadership, and welcomes the Prime Minister’s intention to focus on issues of trade, tax and transparency;
– Conference recognises that in an increasingly globalised world these are issues of common interest for developed and developing countries alike, and that the challenges of economic growth, equity, transparency and sustainability require a coordinated approach;

– Conference therefore calls:
(a) on the Government to use the opportunity of the G8 Presidency, as well as meetings of other global bodies, to ensure that the impact on developing countries of issues like tax avoidance and evasion are fully recognised and reflected in the G8 Summit recommendations;
(b) on the Government to play a vigorous and positive role in the debate around the successor to the Millennium Development Goals and to develop a whole of Government approach to international development, including policies on issues such as tax, trade, transparency, climate change, agricultural subsidies and arms sales; and
(c) on Liberal Democrats in Government to pursue those objectives and on the Party to reflect this approach in its 2015 Election Manifesto.

Mover: Daisy Cooper
Summator: Myles Wickstead
Conference representatives:

January 2013


* David Hall-Matthews is Chair of the Social Liberal Forum

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  • I wouldn’t mind giving British aid to undeveloped countries if they really need it, but if they can afford to have a space programme, they don’t need our cash. On the other hand, there are people in this country who are having to rely on FOOD BANKS, yes food banks in the 21st century. It is at this moment that the Coalition Government are taking away benefits from working people who are knocking their end in for less than a living wage. Have they never heard of the old maxim that “Charity begins at home” LOOK TO YOUR OWN BRITAIN – THEY ARE IN NEED TOO.

  • @ Mark Valadares
    LibDems supported Libya and if you had been in coalition you would have supported Iran and Afghanistan. Answer though how so many people both in and out of work are using food banks but you support welfare cuts to British people . Answer why British people are going to be made homeless due to council tax and housing benefit caps and explain to those under a bridge how it is so important that they understand why they can not be helped but foreign countries can.

  • Brenda Lana Smith R. af D. 6th Jan '13 - 12:53pm

    I am with Maggie Gee and the many folk with a like mind that “Charity begins at home…”

  • Richard Dean 6th Jan '13 - 3:05pm

    While I’m not against aid, I am indeed against doing it for the wrong reasons. This piece starts by critiucising the Civitas document, but offers no justification for its criticisms. Could some explanation please be provided?

    Is it really the case that a realistic amount of aid might have prevented Afghanistan’s problems?

    Is building more houses a simple solution? Might one its effects be to reduce the price that existing houses can be sold at, thereby reducing the credit available to houseowners through mortgages, thereby contributing to the recessionary spiral? Spain bulit a lot of houses, many are now empty even as poor people are being made homeless.

  • Peter Price 6th Jan '13 - 4:44pm

    The argument about helping needy people in Britain first misses two points.

    We do so. If we reach the 0.7% of national income target for international aid, we shall still be spending twelve or more times as much on ‘welfare’ payments. If you add pensions and health to welfare spending as ‘looking after our own first’, then we shall be spending over 40 times as much on ‘our own’. And the aid money is spread among far more human beings in need – much greater need and many times more people.

    Second point is that there will always be British people in need – relative to other British people – and so when would we ever give international aid? If all countries thought that way, what sort of world society would be living in and passing on to our children? Where would ‘look after your own’ stop – at the front door of people’s own homes? That is not the sort of society in which I would want to live.

  • Mark Valladares says:
    “And when your government is spending money it doesn’t have, something’s got to give.”
    So Mark, the coalition government, is very happy to see the emergence of food banks up and down the country? And then, to add insult to injury, it borrows the money ( it doesn’t have… !!), to send out as International Development Aid? So in effect, we are paying for schools for the poor in India, which in turn frees up India’s own cash, and amounts to a subsidy for the Indian governments space or nuclear arms program? And, given that it is borrowed money we are sending, we (or more likely our children), will be paying interest on those borrowed sums for decades ahead?
    How smart is that? And where is the coalitions compassion for the increasing numbers of British poor?
    Mark also asks, on the issue of cuts:
    “Apart from international development, would you like to suggest something?”
    Errrr… Trident?

  • Any caring and compassionate country would want to give aid to less well countries around the world. However whilst we have ever increasing families in the UK reliant on charity food banks to feed their families, Child poverty on the increase, fuel poverty. We have to concentrate our efforts on our own doorstep.

    I do not wish to see Great Britain becoming like Tunisia, where children and people with disabilities are sent out on the streets to beg. Which is where we are heading if this Government and party does not step up to the plate and fulfil its obligation to abolish poverty at home here in the U.K

    Once we have our own house in order, then we should look to others who need our help.

  • Charles Beaumont 7th Jan '13 - 10:01am

    To get back to the original point, the moral argument for aid when it represents a small slice of the overall budget is easily made. But the practical arguments are less so. The hallowed 0.7% target is entirely arbitrary and creates a bizarre situation where DfID’s performance is measured in how much it spends as well as what impact it’s having. Yes, DfID is well-run, but much of its funding is sent as budget support directly to the governments of corrupt countries (such as Ethiopia) with little hope of that money reaching the neediest. DfID has to adopt this approach as the huge budget makes it impossible to get through the cash any other way. Do we seriously think this is a sensible way to run government spending – set an arbitrary target and then indulge in unfocused transfers in order to achieve it.

  • Brenda Lana Smith R. af D. 7th Jan '13 - 12:19pm

    @Simon Shaw…

    “…the worry is that what you actually mean is “Charity ENDS at home.”

    Broadly speaking… for the immediate future… Yes, Simon….

  • Old Codger Chris 7th Jan '13 - 12:19pm

    Yesterday’s Radio 4 programme “Inside the Aid Industry” was informative. I’m sure it can be downloaded – part 2 will be next Sunday at 1.30pm.

  • “As a society, we have decided that we want a certain type of safety net for the poor and the vulnerable – an entirely legitimate choice to make, assuming that we can pay for it. It would appear that, unfortunately, we can’t – at least, not given the other decisions we have taken.”

    Isn’t that rather like saying “Unfortunately I am not able to walk – at least, not given the decision I’ve taken to spend the day in bed”?

    It would be rather more accurate to say that the government has chosen to cut benefits (in real terms) so that it can reduce income tax for all basic rate taxpayers

  • Old Codger Chris 7th Jan '13 - 1:02pm

    The full quotation is “Charity begins at home but should not end there”. Attributed to Thomas Fuller, a seventeenth century clergyman who was a wise and learned cove.

  • Nigel Jones 7th Jan '13 - 8:16pm

    Brenda Lana Smith sems to have missed the point made by Peter Price that we have begun with charity at home and have been doing so for about a century in government policy; not to mention the growth in charitable organisations that help our own people enormously. People seem to be ignorant of the fact that Food Banks are only a stop-gap, normally giving food aid for a 3-day period, because the people they help are in need only for a short period of time. This indicates something wrong, but it is nowhere near as bad as the poorest in the world, where people die of hunger or often have no systems that give them any hope of a better future.
    As to state benefits, there are plenty of other budgets to raid or taxes to collect, in order to deal with unfair benefit cuts and we can rightly criticise the coalition for not doing that properly.
    Yet, the points in favour of David Hall-Matthews’ motion are many. Ted Heath and a former German chancellor many years ago produced a book ( called North-South ) highlighting the positive effects on us all, of extending and improving the way we help underdeveloped nations develop; that was before most people became aware of the climate issue, which not only harms poorer nations most, but the state of poorer nations make it more difficult to tackle.

  • Brenda Lana Smith 7th Jan '13 - 10:26pm

    @Nigel Jones Where is it written that one must acknowledge the arguments of all when supporting another’s opinion based on Britain’s current state of financial affairs…

    “To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform…”
    — Theodore H. White:

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