Politicians recently voted in favour of a commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on international aid, despite opposition from some MPs. I would argue that when it comes to giving aid to those who are worse off than us, national borders are arbitrary, and we should be just as concerned with global poverty as with poverty within our own country. Looking at it that way, 0.7% actually seems a very small amount.
The UK, by several measures, has the sixth biggest economy in the world. Even if we look at GDP per person, the UK is generally ranked from 24th to 28th, which is still well above average. It is worth explicitly stating that for those of us who are born in a rich country such as the UK, it has not been through merit. Much is made of inequality in the UK and how it’s not right that those born in poorer families have far fewer opportunities in life than those born in rich families. But the same logic applies for those born in poorer countries. And this is why we should not begrudge money sent to other countries in the same way that we should not begrudge the welfare state within our own country.
International aid is not simply about sending money abroad. Many of those who leave poorer countries are the better qualified people, such as doctors, and this can lead to a “brain drain” leaving these countries in a worse state than before. Richer countries are often keen to take the “brightest and best” from poorer countries, without considering the effects on the countries that are being left behind. This is not to say that people should be prevented from leaving their home countries for a better life elsewhere, but the richer countries should not be actively trying to poach these people, and we can counteract this in any case by sending people qualified in the relevant areas (with the necessary financial incentives) to help provide the essential services and build up the infrastructure of poorer countries.
By helping other countries approach the level of wealth that this country enjoys, we would also be helping ourselves. Where there isn’t a wealth disparity, the freedom to travel from one country to another is seen as an equal and mutually beneficial arrangement between the countries involved. So the more we help the poorer countries to become richer and reach our own standard, the less resentment and fear (whether warranted or not) there would be about immigration. It is bound to be a slow process for many countries, but the sooner we start and the more effort we make, the better for everyone.
Sending aid at the right time to countries that need it can also save us money. When there are natural disasters such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, or Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, a lot of money is sent to the affected countries in aid. But if these countries had previously been helped to build more secure infrastructures to protect against such devastation in the first place, it would have saved a lot more in the long run, in both human and economic terms.
As a comparison, the UK spends about 2.3% of GDP on its military, which puts the 0.7% spent on international aid into context. For developed countries to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid was a target of the UN Millennium Project. But this is supposed to be a minimum, and while the recent vote in the Commons was a step in the right direction, I would push for more. Given the levels of military spending and the levels of global poverty, I don’t think spending 2% of GDP on international aid would be excessive.