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The Pope reopens the international aid debate

3 February 2011

2:47 PM

3 February 2011

2:47 PM

Spare a dime for a travelling Ponfiff? The Department for International Development can
– and then some. According to their latest accounts, they funnelled
£1.85 million of cash across to the Foreign Office to help pay for the Pope’s visit to Britain last September. The money didn’t specifically come out of their ring-fenced aid budget, but it
would normally have gone towards DfID operations overseas. "Somewhat surprising," is how one member of the international development select committee has put it.

Whatever your take on the Pope’s visit, this is still a story which reopens the wider debate about development spending. For many people, I’d imagine, it doesn’t make sense for the British
government to be pushing ahead with overseas handouts when we are enduring cuts and tax hikes back home – and that goes doubly so when the money appears to be misdirected. Yet, for the
coalition, foreign aid remains a priority. In his Spending Review statement, George Osborne emphasised that, "this Coalition
Government will be the first British government in history, and the first major country in the world, to honour the [0.7% GDP] commitment on international aid." If we transpose his words into
graph form:

But what about other countries? Sadly, the latest statistics only cover up until 2009 – but that’s enough to reveal some of the main trends. First up, Osborne was being unfair to a cohort of
Scandinavian countries, as well as to Holland, when he said we will be the first "major country" to hit the 0.7 per cent aid target – they managed it a couple of years ago. Whereas
countries such as the US, Japan, Germany and Australia are still some distance from it:

If we compare that to what each country spent in 2008, we had the third biggest real terms increase in aid spending. Many other countries were already cutting:

Speak to coalitioneers, and some boast that we are now among only a handful of major countries to be increasing aid spending in real terms. The question is whether that is something we should be
proud of, or whether it is an act of government folly. Today’s news about the Papal visit – even if those funds weren’t directly from the aid budget – will do nothing to strengthen the
former case.

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