The EU countries have repeatedly pledged to increase their overseas development aid to 0.7% of gross national income. That’s a specific figure and isn’t plucked from the air – 0.7% of the developed world income is the estimated cost to fund the Millennium Development Goals. So how are we doing? Here are the results from 2011, from a rather nifty interactive dataset from One.
Some countries have done it. Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have all met their targets or exceeded them. Others have cut their aid fairly substantially, leaving a shortfall of €700 million overall. Britain’s contributions have dropped from 0.57% to 0.55% this year. No doubt we’d plead recession, but as always, it’s a matter of priorities.
In times of austerity, development aid looks like an easy thing to drop. The people who miss out don’t vote in UK elections, and many British voters are passionately opposed to aid in the first place. To understand why, look no further than your nearest news stand and the tabloid bile about corruption or aid to India.
So far the coalition government has done pretty well in maintaining support for our development work, ringfencing the budget to protect it from the cuts agenda. I had hoped they might legislate to make our aid targets legally binding, but that hasn’t happened yet. I suspect that there will be increasing pressure on the aid budget in coming years, especially if the economy continues along its current plateau. Those of us that think aid is important are going to have to keep on making the case for it.