Leading article: A sensible redirection of effort, but risks lie ahead

Related Topics

It has been brave of the Coalition Government to stick to its election commitment to ring-fence Britain's £8.4bn overseas aid budget at a time when public spending is being slashed so heavily. We should not balance our books at the expense of the most wretched people on the planet, especially when comparatively small amounts of money can save many lives in the developing world.

To fend off criticism from the Tory right, the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, has launched a major review of how our money is spent. He clearly hopes that support for aid will be increased by demanding greater value for money, emphasising how aid helps our national interests and by focusing it on states where Britain has an interest in greater stability.

It is sensible of him to end British aid in more than a dozen countries, including China and Russia, which are no longer poor, or in Angola and Cambodia, which remain poor but where Britain is not a lead donor and where co-ordinating aid from many donors is an unnecessary drain on resources. And it is courageous of him to maintain aid to India which, despite being the world's 11th largest economy, with its own space programme, has nearly half a billion desperately poor people – more than in any other country in the world. India has more poor people in three states than there are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. And though growth is lifting people out of poverty in China, it isn't in India.

There had been fears that the review would put Britain's security concerns ahead of the fight against global poverty. Certainly more money is now going to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and other "fragile" states which are potential seedbeds of terrorism. By 2014 almost a third of British aid is expected to go to countries the UK deems a security risk. Aid to Yemen, whose lack of economic development provides a fertile recruiting ground for al-Qa'ida, will double. But most of those countries score high on poverty indices; in Yemen half the children are malnourished. Aid to Iraq is to end, which suggests security is not the top priority, while it continues in Ghana, which is stable, but very poor.

There is logic too in the shift in attitudes to multilateral agencies. Good ones, like the UN children's agency Unicef, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, will get more money. Poor performers, like Unesco, are threatened with less. But care must be taken. Britain is threatening to switch funds from the UN's lethargic Food and Agriculture Organization to the World Food Programme, which deals effectively with emergency food aid. Yet these two are not alternatives; the FAO deals with strategic issues of long-term global food security; if it is not performing it needs a spur to reform, not cutting adrift.

There are other questionable elements in the review. Making aid to Yemen conditional on macroeconomic reform sound suspiciously like a reversion to the failed economic "adjustment" programmes of the Thatcherite 1980s, with its privatisations and cuts in health and education spending. And though the emphasis on value for money sounds sensible, its "payment by results" approach could result in a focus on easily-measurable targets, like how many wells have been dug, at the risk of more difficult, harder-to-measure, but ultimately more transformative development work like improving the skills of civil servants in the health ministry, to run efficient healthcare.

That shift from the long-term to the short-term carries risks. And a greater focus on security could compromise anti-poverty priorities. Campaigners will need to scrutinise the minutiae of the changes when detailed figures are published in April. But in the meantime, two cheers for Mr Mitchell seem in order.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas