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Attacking Foreign Aid Spending – The Daily Mail does not get it

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- Tom Winnifrith

The Daily Mail today has a real go at Call Me Dave for boasting to the UN about how the UK is spending ever more cash on International aid. This will play well with its readers but misses the point. There are folks out there who reckon that scrapping the £11 billion or so we piss away on foreign aid each year will make a difference. It will not really.

Do not get me wrong. I do not think that the £11 billion the Department for International Development (DFID) spends, no wastes, each year can be justified. 40% of Africa’s military spending is effectively funded by aid programmes. The poor in Africa see very little benefit, the elites in some pretty vile regimes line their pockets and our cash goes to prop up these regimes. Just as I do not believe in military intervention to affect regime change in the Middle East (waste of money and it just makes them hate the West even more), I do not believe in financial intervention via aid to Africa as that inevitably stops regime change. In the end aid is always a transfer of wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

But where the Mail goes horribly wrong is by pretending that were we to abolish DFID tomorrow we could stop cuts in public spending elsewhere. It goes into tedious detail about how many regiments could be saved, nurses not fired etc. But the reality is that the coalition is actually increasing Government spending year on year. In 2013 total Government spending will be £676.6 billion (actually I reckon it may overshoot current plans). That will take the UK National debt up from a projected £1039 billion at the end of 2012 to £1159 billion by the end of 2013. That will be c73% of GDP (up from 65% now).
By the end of this Parliament in 2015 the debt to GDP ratio will be almost 80%. I remind you again that at 90% the amount of debt gets to such a level where it seriously starts to affect economic growth. The UK’s debt to GDP ratio is already higher than Spain’s and we will overtake France soon. It is only because we are not in the Euro that we are not already deep in the merde.

And so scraping DFID is just a pin prick. Of course Cameron is a fool to boast about how we are increasing aid. It is money badly spent and money we cannot afford. But scrapping DFID is just the start. If the UK is to get serious about tackling its deficit before it is too late there have to be far more dramatic changes. Where will that £676 billion be spent in 2013? The big culprits are the NHS (£126.2 billion), Education (£97.2 billion), pensions £138.1 billion and welfare £116.3 billion. We will spend less on defence (£46.3 billion) than on servicing the national debt.

The Daily Mail article is populist nonsense. The choice is not about giving money to African despots or saving a few regiments/nursing jobs. The adult debate is about real matters like how the pension age should be raised so that it matches life expectancy (as the system was set up to do), about how whole swathes of local Government need to shut, about how we will close down two thirds of the “new” Universities and cut back the schools budget as we only allow those students with a real academic calling to stay on after 16. There has to be a debate about how the world’s third largest employer (the NHS) has to shrink and stop offering universal care for all conditions. Welfare has to become a safety net rather than a universal benefit or lifestyle choice.

Call Me Dave’s tomfoolery is a distraction from the harsh reality that Britain is going bust. Scrapping DFID tomorrow will only postpone that process of bankruptcy by a few months.

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