For those keen watchers of the BBC political programme Question Time, you may remember a few weeks ago Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail columnist, stating her belief that the Department for International Development should be closed down. Since then the Daily Mail have published a few articles and columns such as this one yesterday, followed by numerous comments from members of the public supporting the view that aid should be slashed and very few in favour of our overseas aid spending (although this could partly be due to the fact that the Daily Mail moderate their comments, perhaps giving a somewhat skewed opinion).
The public perception of overseas aid is difficult to state outright. Melanie Phillips' comment that DFID should be closed down was overwhelmingly booed by the Question Time audience - although this again is probably not a reasonable representation of the UK view overall. The Daily Mail comments section is probably not completely representative either. It's more likely that opinion is somewhere between these two extremes, regretfully nearer to the Daily Mail side than the Question Time side according to some surveys. Around the time of the Emergency Budget this time last year, one survey suggested only 6% of people thought DFID's budget should be ringfenced and 43% thought it should be slashed.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, has reportedly stated that the decision by the Coalition Government to ringfence this budget, and increase spending to 0.7% of GDP is one that needs "daily justification" to members of the public. Although he is supported by the vast majority of MPs from all political parties, as stated before the public are wary about this in the current economic climate. I've been impressed by the Government's attempts to persuade people, and their attempt to push other G8 nations into meeting their pledges - although there is still a lot of work to do before public opinion shifts. Andrew Mitchell is due to appear on Question Time this week - it will be interesting to see if overseas aid is discussed again (Thurs 9th June, BBC 1, 10.35pm).
A while ago, when DFID announced the results of their Aid Review, I wrote an article outlining why it is the right thing to spend money on international development. I understand there is a need to address issues of corruption and accountability, but the key point is that we are doing the right thing in spending money on international development. As someone who therefore believes in the importance of international development, believes in the huge responsibility we have to reduce poverty and improving the conditions of life for people across the globe, and someone who has seen firsthand the benefits this can make - I also have a duty and desire to work to bring the British public on board. My sphere of influence will obviously be far smaller than Andrew Mitchell's but I can still comment on articles in the media, draw people's attention to the good work DFID, NGOs and overseas governments are doing, and make a reasoned case for the 0.7% GDP pledge - making and fighting the case for overseas aid. If you also believe in the importance of this... why not take five minutes to write to your MP, local newspaper etc to outline why you support this crucial and important work!
An excellent resource you could use to outline why it is so important for us to take a lead can be found at www.ifitweremyhome.com/index/GB. This site contrasts what life would be like if we were born in, and lived in another country. For example if I was born in Tanzania, I would be 31 more times likely to have HIV/AIDS, over 14 times more likely to die in infancy, die 26.7 years younger and make 96% less money. This site helps you to put life in perspective, empathise, and hopefully makes it hard to say no to spending less than 1p from every pound earned in this country, on overseas aid.