In Defence of U.K Overseas Aid: Solidarity Not Charity

I will be frank; I refuse to be silenced by size 114 bold fonts on front pages and dismissive Parliamentary debates when something as crucial as UK Aid comes under attack. I will make the case for the continuation of UK Aid and for a new lens with which development and overseas aid should be seen: that of Solidarity, not Charity. 

In recent years, the Department for International Development has come under intense fire from various (right wing) publications, being urged to ‘put Brits first’ and stop paying for ‘foreign scroungers’. The Daily Mail and The Sun, the nation’s pride and joy, have embarked on a relentless campaign for DFID to scrap its commitment (now legally enshrined) to contributing 0.7% of the U.K’s GNI to Overseas Aid.

I’ll admit maths isn’t my strong point, but I think I’ll have a go, just to give Paul Dacre and Tony Gallagher a helping hand:

U.K GNI (Gross National Income) = 2.446 trillion PPP dollars

0.7% of 2.446 trillion PPP dollars = 17122000000 PPP dollars

$17122000000 converted to £ = 13712958605.22 pounds

[In reality however, this figure accounts to even less, and is closer to about £12 billion. In practice, it means that 7p of every £10 raised from taxpayers is spent on overseas development.

This is by no means a blind defence of UK Aid, there is a long way to go to make Aid as useful as possible: the extent to which it is spent correctly and not simply funnelled through corrupt governments has long been a plague on the development and aid communities.

Nobody can condone corruption in Aid, or any other injustices that have ravaged the Aid ‘industry’ in recent history. But recent legislation and steps taken to bypass such governments and give aid directly where it is needed have certainly helped to alleviate this grave ‘injury’. The UK is now one of six countries regularly and consistently meeting the 0.7% UN proposed target, it is something we should be proud of, and we should make this clear. In DFID’s annual report it has given the following statistics:

  • In 2015, it is estimated that DFID support immunised approximately 20 million children, saving 250,000 lives:
  • DFID reached 13.3 million children under 5, women of childbearing age and adolescent girls through our nutrition-relevant programmes
  • DFID enabled 5.9 million women from 2012 to 2015, and 1 million women in 2015–16, to use modern methods of family planning. This gives a total of 6.9 million for the period 2012–2016
  • DFID supported 3.1 million children to gain a decent education
  • DFID supported 11.3 million people to access clean water and/or better sanitation

With that in mind, let us consider the various attacks and issues with overseas aid in general, both as a concept as well as in practice. Aid has long been a contentious issue: it has come under attack from both the left and the right. The ‘Left’ claims it perpetuates a ‘white saviour complex’, where Aid becomes a tool of expansion and condescension, rather than one of actual help. It places the white man in the position of power, helping the poor black child. Indeed, this narrative is arguably true if you observe certain ‘on a whim’ trips made to ‘poor African villages’ simply to strengthen your CV.

We in the west must overcome this notion that Africa and the developing world is ‘our’s to fix’. We are not messiahs simply because we happen to be mostly white and rich. We had no choice in our phenotypical characteristics, just as those in the developing world did not choose theirs.

It is foolish to assume that we have a predefined role as ‘carers’ for the less fortunate. A simple background in history will tell us that the mess in developing countries, and particularly Africa, was made by those now refusing to cancel what is called ‘third world debt’. These issues are not simply black and white, nor are they easily resolved, there is a great deal of nuance to be considered. For this, I propose the concept of ‘Solidarity, not Charity’. This is a slogan that has frequently been used by anti-fascist and homeless aid organisations, and I feel it goes a long way in clearing many misunderstandings which have landed us in this cesspit of hatred and racism. Let’s be clear, the campaigns being run by the Mail on Sunday and The Sun are racist and exceptionalist. We should not be afraid to use these words when it is apt to use them. The Mail on Sunday propagates a deeply racist, nationalistic and exceptionalist world view where ‘Brits come first’. Brits who suffer from flooding are far more important than Bangladeshis who suffer from flooding in the Ganges delta almost every year – clearly, place of birth and stamped pieces of paper matter more than a human life.

I feel that the concept of ‘Solidarity, not Charity’ establishes a common fraternal and sororal relationship regardless of ethnicity or location. It removes the stigma that some may feel by accepting aid and partly removes the issue of ‘the white saviour’. It is our duty to help brothers and sisters across the globe, with the firm belief in mind that if we were to be put in a similar situation in the future, we could rely on a mere 0.7% of their budget to help us. It is not a political issue, but a moral and human one. As we have seen, 0.7% is an incredibly small amount of money considering it comes from the 5th richest nation on the planet, and it is necessary that it be maintained.

Thankfully, the Secretary of state for International Development Priti Patel has rescinded her past comments in favour of scrapping DFID as a whole, but it is we, the general public, who must confront vile attacks on UK Aid wherever we may find them.

The case for aid is a simple one, and we must not be afraid of being radical and firm in defence of our brothers and sisters overseas.

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