The government’s decision to cut the overseas aid budget by about £4 billion has been portrayed as “red meat” to its electoral base, which is presumed to want to put “Britain first”.The idea is that money currently being spent to save lives in less-developed countries will instead be used to improve the lot of people living in Britain’s more deprived areas.
There are so many problems with this that it’s hard to know where to start. So let’s make a list:
- Does the UK electorate really not care about the fate of millions of people, especially children, lacking basic healthcare, sanitation, education, clean water and food? That seems unlikely, given the extent of UK-funded charity work in these areas. The suggestion that people are willing to contemplate hundreds of thousands of additional deaths with equanimity is frankly insulting.
- Insulting and manipulative, because the idea that this is a choice between British and overseas lives is completely false. It plays to a narrative beloved in Conservative circles that the government’s finances are like a domestic budget. This narrative conveniently forgets that, unlike you and I, a government creates the money in the economy, and decides how much of it should be in circulation at any one time. So if it wanted to spend more money to support Britons who are struggling it can do this and maintain the overseas aid budget at its previous level. But given that it’s planning to reduce real pay for many public sector workers over the next few years (by applying a pay freeze), it doesn’t feel as if social justice is its top priority.
- There is a direct connection between the success or otherwise of the overseas aid budget and the bodies of desperate migrants being washed up on the coasts of the English Channel. At a time when millions of people are displaced or on the move, desperate to escape violence, famine, sickness and other forms of extreme deprivation, it feels beyond shortsighted to cut the money to help them build sustainable lives in the places they already live.
- The problems of poverty and deprivation in Britain have nothing to do with a lack of money. The UK remains among the very richest countries in the world. The problem has to do with the way the economy is structured. Most UK economic activity involves making money out of money, so it follows that those with money get progressively richer while the rest struggle to catch up. The solution is to change this broken system, and particularly the role that money plays in real wealth- creation. Money should be a useful tool to help everybody to be productive, rather than end in itself to be amassed by the already-wealthy.