ANOTHER VIEW: Not a penny off our aid

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Comic Relief, as well as Oxfam, Save the Children and more than 100 other aid organisations are on particularly nasty tenterhooks this week. If what we're told is true, there's an extremely current attempt to slash the overseas aid budget in a way that could effectively almost halve the direct help the Government sends to the poorest people in the world.

We beg the Government on bended knees not to make any reduction at all in this budget come November. I'm actually prostrate as I write this. We would hate to see our tax cuts financed like this, and we suspect most people in Britain would feel the same. Ten years ago, at the time of Live Aid, there was an extraordinary unity of emotion over the Ethiopian famine, huge outrage that Western governments had been part of letting such a thing happen. It couldn't have been clearer that British people felt a responsibility to people struggling to survive in the poor half of the world and wanted their government to show it.

Ten years later during 1995's Comic Relief the public donated pounds 7.9m by telephone - double the amount they gave two years before; double the amount donated by telephone to Live Aid. Compassion fatigue? I think not.

Britain, I'm told, has a commitment to the United Nations to increase our overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of the gross national product. As formal commitments go it has turned out to be a bit of a Will Carling. In 1979 it was 0.51 per cent and now it's only 0.31 per cent. It's less than Germany's percentage. It's less than France's. If we're not to turn magenta with shame, we should at least keep things as they are. Even that, apparently, will mean adding pounds 100m to the budget - which, incidentally, is less than the cost of widening the M25 between junctions 7 and 10.

Last February Douglas Hurd said: "The purpose of aid ... is not in question. Nor is the moral imperative to use some of our wealth to help others. But in the longer term it is in our own self-interest too." Somewhat unusually, he's completely right. Major, Clarke, Rifkind, Baroness Chalker, Waldegrave presumably know he's right. Let's hope it's not forgotten in the rough and tumble of negotiation.

It's not only aid professionals and a load of loud comedians in loud T-shirts who see the poorest people in the world as silent partners in these Treasury meetings - waiting to see if you're about to let a percentage of their crops die, leave a percentage of their children unvaccinated, a percentage of their water polluted. The British public has stood up for them over and over again with generosity good humour and pride. We're pretty sure they'll expect their government to do the same this November.

Angus Deayton is writing on behalf of Comic Relief.

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