Mini-rant on foreign aid budgets

The UK is currently experiencing some pretty bad weather. We have just had the wettest January on record and February seems no better. Consequently there is a lot of flooding, including in my own city of Worcester.

As usually happens in these times of relative hardship loud cries go up from the public complaining about the government's foreign aid budget. Why are we giving away all our hard earned money to foreigners when our own people are suffering? After all, these corrupt foreigners only spend it on weapons and space programs! We need to claw back that money and let charity begin at home!

There is currently a swell of public opinion in the UK that shares such sentiments.

I do NOT like it.

The UK is due to reach the giddy heights of generosity this year of giving away 0.7% of our GNP in overseas aid. It is a lot of money but as a percentage of the whole it is tiny. We spend almost all of our tax money on ourselves. And this is as it should be. Governments have a duty first to their own citizens. Maybe charity does begin at home, but even if it does it already has!

What frustrates me is that there are all sorts of budgets from which money could be diverted to help people whose houses and businesses are flooded. Why is it that the immediate reaction is always to stop the tiny bit that we give to help others?

I think that it is a good thing for a nation to seek to help others that are less well off. I think it is a virtuous thing. I think that it is a deeply human thing. That is the kind of nation I think Britain, or any nation, should aspire to be. To divert foreign aid money to flood victims instead of diverting money already allocated for UK spending would, I think, be a wrong move. Yes, times are hard and money is tight but when we only see our own problems and cannot see those of others we are in danger of gaining the world but losing our souls.


David Reimer said…
And the people said, "Amen!"

Well, this people does, anyway. Thanks, Robin.
Unknown said…
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Jonathan Poulton said…
I think you're missing the point here. It's not that there is a general lack of concern for the plight of those in need overseas. The British people have shown themselves very generous when faced with humanitarian disasters worldwide. Britain, as a nation, as a society, as a community, does seek to help others that are less well off. It just doesn't like the idea of money which is collected through coercion (taxation) being used for charitable projects overseas when there are pressing needs at home. British people want to give, and do give, but they want to give freely. It seems that the comfortably-off find it all too easy to spend other people's money, but to do so without their consent is not charity, it's theft. 'Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'
Anonymous said…
Not sure it's the public that object to foreign aid so much as the public selectively quoted and schooled in spiteful petulance by the mid-market tabloids. They'd have you believe they're the voice of the people. They're not.
Robin Parry said…

We obviously have very different views of government. Money taken in tax is not optional, true enough. But then none of us who pay tax have much of a say in where the money is spent. We elect a government to decide that on our behalf and, if we don't like what they do with it, we elect another. In the UK being elected IS the consent of people to make decisions on where money is spent. There is no need for a referendum on every decision for it to have legitimacy.

Where does the idea come from that none of that money should be spent on anyone outside of the UK? Not even a fraction of a percent? I cannot think of anywhere.

You speak of Britain as a nation and a society and as a community giving and yet what you actually seem to be speaking about is lots of individuals freely choosing what, if anything, they give. By Britain giving as a nation you seem to mean the sum total of all those individual givings. But surely the notion of Britain as community, nation, and society must be more than a loose collection of atomic individuals. And Britain giving as a nation cannot be limited to the individual choices of said individuals. Why cannot those who represent sub-communities within Britain and those who represent the nation as a whole (i.e., its elected representatives) give on our behalf just as they represent the nation in other ways?

People want to give freely. That's fine. They can and do. Nobody is stopping them. And nobody is stopping them giving generously to help out those struggling in the UK at the moment.

Perhaps we should see this time as an opportunity for individuals and sub-communities to pull together and sort things out instead of looking to central government to solve all such problems.

And perhaps it is an opportunity for the nation to say that we help our own but never at the expense of completely neglecting others. That the floods have helped us empathize even more with those nations in which floods cause far more harm and devastation than they have to us and they have strengthened our resolve to maintain our foreign aid.
Micah said…
Hi, Robin -- I do really appreciate your support for charity for other peoples. Personally, though, I think government has a very bad track record in essentially every area it gets involved in, introducing multiple layers of corruption and waste; and the idea that we must largely rely on an army of politicians and bureaucrats to fulfill the command of Love thy neighbor for us leads to all kinds of problems.

Another factor in foreign aid that turns me off is that it seems to be often used for nefarious geopolitical chess maneuvers and warmongering, which I would rather not have done in my name (at least with regard to US foreign aid), with money that has been taken from the People under a monopoly of force. I think the best kind of foreign aid is simply to get out of the way of people engaging in trade with all other people, which fosters harmony; and not creating dependencies abroad, or at home, through subsidies. I'd rather see the Church involved with voluntary foreign charity than the State involved with coerced 'charity'.

Seems to me that the strongest nation is the one which values individual Liberty the most and leaves each person free to obey the command to Love as they are led, without the barrel of the gun forcing them to do it as others would dictate.

Sorry, on my own mini soapbox there. :) lol

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