Time to account for Aid money

The UK's International Aid budget has been given a huge amount of attention over the past few weeks, with a seemingly endless stream of headlines highlighting where International Aid money has been wasted, writes Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke in his column for the Wetherby News.

Friday, 13th January 2017, 8:59 am
Updated Friday, 13th January 2017, 9:01 am

Wasted International Aid money is an utter disgrace. It not only short changes the British taxpayer but it also means that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are denied vital food, medicine and shelter. It must be the ongoing responsibility of the Secretary of State, Priti Patel MP, to closely scrutinise how aid money is administered and, if necessary, to crack down hard on wasteful practices.

However, International Aid money is often misunderstood through the narrative put forward by elements of the popular press. It is not simply “giving our money away to foreigners”, but is rather a key aspect of our foreign policy and our ability to influence events on the global stage.

For example, the British Government has over the past five years contributed billions of pounds to refugee camps around Syria, in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. These key states in this highly unstable region have taken in millions of displaced people from the war torn country of Syria. Out of a pre-war Syrian population of 22 million people over 12 million are displaced and around 5 million are in refugee camps in these three countries alone. Put into context, it is as though Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were between them sheltering the entire combined populations of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle.

The pressures that have been brought to bear on European countries who have taken a small fraction of refugees has been seen across the continent; but these three countries, considerably poorer than the European average, take by far the largest burden. Without their efforts, the migration crisis truly would be out of control.

To help the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian governments, Britain has contributed more International Aid than all other European countries added together and has been doing so since the outbreak of the war before most countries in Europe even registered the unfolding disaster in Syria.

I have always stood on a platform of supporting the International Aid agenda and I am proud that we reacted quickly from the start, continuing to support aid programmes in war torn areas of the world. This has meant savings millions of lives and allowing people to stay near their homelands with the hope of returning to their lands one day. We should all be proud of the work our nation is carrying out, and it should not be dismissed as merely a ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’.

National instability across the world always has had the immediate effect of displacing populations. Whether it be though bloodshed, famine or political human rights abuses, our shared human instinct to protect our families and ourselves will always lead to people moving away from the danger.

This causes pressure and instability to spread further like ripples on a pond and eventually there is a direct effect to our country, whether through violence or strains on the economies of those we trade with.

We do not live in isolation, all world events will eventually affect us all. This is why it is better to support aid programmes in developing countries and help the development of governance and health structures to stop the stone that causes the ripples on a pond from landing in the first place.

The importance of our International Aid programmes in securing global stability therefore make it all the more vital there should be no excuse for poor value for taxpayers’ money, and means, in my view, that we should be more flexible in how we spend. When we realise that billions of pounds is pushed out of the door each year into dormant bank accounts or into frivolous projects, just to meet the target spend, then the time has come to finesse our approach.

My opinion is now that, rather than spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income per year on International Aid, we should move to an aspiration of 0.7 per cent on average over a decade, rather than a fixed level per year. This will better allow us to react to the ever changing geopolitical situation, spending more in some years, and less in others. Rather than worrying about targets, we can ensure British aid money is doing the only things it should be doing - stabilising our world and saving lives.